Political analyst Ou Virak was questioned at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday over a defamation suit filed against him last month by the CPP, which claims he affected the “dignity” of the ruling party in comments he made in a radio interview.
Mr. Virak, who runs the Future Forum think tank, is being sued over remarks made in a Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcast last month, when he suggested that the sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha was being used as a political tool by the ruling party.
“The strategy of the ruling party now is to try to put pressure on Mr. Kem Sokha and his finances,” the lawsuit quotes Mr. Virak as saying.
“The activeness of the CPP in subduing its political competitor in such a way will make it lose a lot of popularity, and some officials in this party are also not fond of this tactic,” Mr. Virak was quoted as saying.
In its complaint, the ruling party requests $100,000 in compensation from Mr. Virak for affecting the “dignity and prestige” of the party.
Speaking outside the court on Thursday following questioning by prosecutors, Mr. Virak maintained that the charge of defamation was baseless.
“There no evidence to prove it’s defamation. It is confusing to me,” he said. “What I analyzed was if the ruling party loses honor or popularity, the citizens understand that.”
“I have rejected the lawsuit, and I suggested that the prosecutor not proceed with the case,” he said, adding that he was mainly questioned over the exact nature of his comments to RFA.
Although he denied that he had directly accused the government of orchestrating the ballooning sex scandal, Mr. Virak questioned who else could be behind the judicial pursuit of Mr. Sokha and a growing number of rights workers and opposition officials over the sex scandal.
“If the ruling party did not allow the investigation, then who made the decision? So it is the truth,” he said, referring to the ruling party’s role in the pursuit of Mr. Sokha.
Mr. Virak said that while his case was clearly politically motivated, it could provide the government with an opportunity to prove its critics wrong.
“If anything, they could prove that they no longer have control over the court,” he said. “But it takes more than just my case to prove that.”
Ly Sophanna, spokesman for the court’s prosecutors, said only that the case would “continue according to procedure,” and declined to comment further.
Sok Eysan, the CPP spokesman who filed the initial complaint on behalf of the party and was questioned by the court last week, said Mr. Virak’s comments went beyond legally protected freedom of speech.
“The evidence we gave to the court is really clear. Many people listen to RFA radio, so citizens could get ideas and think the CPP did everything behind the mistress case,” he said, adding that the government would “not let go” of the lawsuit.
“We have clearly seen that his comment went beyond the Constitution and the law, but to figure out if it is defamation or not we will let the court do its job.”