The ruling CPP says it will sue an opposition senator over a recent speech in which she appeared to accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen of having political analyst Kem Ley murdered, although the senator has denied the allegation.
The threat comes amid a spate of legal action against government critics widely seen as politically motivated.
On Saturday, the CPP-friendly Fresh News service posted a video of Senator Thak Lany, of the legacy Sam Rainsy Party, speaking to CNRP activists in her home province of Ratanakkiri and appearing to pin Kem Ley’s July 10 murder on the prime minister.
“Now I don’t know what Hun Sen was thinking,” she is seen and heard saying in the clip. “He was agitated and then shot at Kem Ley, who was a political analyst who spoke up about Global Witness, Hun Sen’s corruption, his family’s corruption and the millions of dollars they saved. Global Witness documented everything, but [Kem Ley] just referenced the document.”
Global Witness, a London-based anti-corruption group, released a report last month linking the prime minister’s family to a vast network of private firms with a combined capital of more than $200 million. Kem Ley, a popular political commentator, discussed the report during a radio interview a few days before he was gunned down inside a convenience store in central Phnom Penh.
“Hun Sen did this to intimidate people who support the National Rescue Party [CNRP], so that they don’t stand up to vote for the National Rescue Party,” Ms. Lany says in the clip. “So he appeals to the people to see Sam Rainsy as a bad guy who blocks aid, makes workers suffer and opposes garment exports. But that’s an exaggeration; Sam Rainsy did not say that.”
Mr. Rainsy, whose eponymous party merged with the Human Rights Party to form the CNRP in 2012, has urged the E.U. to make aid and garment imports from Cambodia conditional on improvements to the country’s human rights record.
Although Mr. Hun Sen has denied any role in Kem Ley’s murder, public suspicion has fallen heavily on the government. Mr. Rainsy has himself labeled it a political assassination.
Contacted on Sunday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party would sue Ms. Lany for defaming the prime minister.
“On Monday or Tuesday, we will sue and accuse her of defamation,” he said. “Once the police analyze the voice we will know whether it was edited or not. Now everyone has heard it. She can’t be excused.”
Ms. Lany denied accusing the prime minister of ordering Kem Ley’s murder and said the audio from her speech in Ratanakkiri had been edited to make it seem as though she had.
“I did not say that Samdech Hun Sen killed,” she said. “I just said there was someone who killed Dr. Kem Ley on that day. But they cut out my words ‘there was someone who killed’ and connected the words ‘Samdech Hun Sen.’”
“I said Global Witness reported that Hun Sen and his family were corrupt, and that Dr. Kem Ley interpreted it on Radio Free Asia without fear, so two days later someone shot Dr. Kem Ley dead,” she said.
Ms. Lany said she was untroubled by the prospects of a lawsuit.
“It is his right to sue,” she said of the prime minister. “I am not concerned. Whatever happens, we will resolve the problem.”
Two opposition lawmakers have already been arrested, charged and jailed in the past year over their online claims about Cambodia’s contentious border with Vietnam. Mr. Rainsy is in self-exile avoiding a two-year prison term attached to a defamation conviction in a case brought by Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong. CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha has been hiding inside the party’s Phnom Penh headquarters since May, when police tried and failed to arrest him for not showing up in court to answer questions about his alleged affair with a hairdresser.
During a brief visit to Cambodia last month, the U.S. government’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Tom Malinowski, said the recent court cases had a clear political bent.
“It is pretty plain that over the last several weeks and months in Cambodia, the vast majority of these legal actions have been taken against one side—against people who are seen as critics of the government,” he said at the time. “And I think that gives rise to legitimate questions of politicization of the process.”