The case of a civil servant and a military officer charged with defamation over their social media musings on a senator’s sex life was sent for reinvestigation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.
Judge Top Chhun Heng was scheduled to announce verdicts for Pheng Vannak, an Interior Ministry official, and Hang Borey, a senior military officer, over Facebook posts they made regarding an alleged affair between CPP Senator Keo Maly and military general Seak Socheat, but said the court had not arrived at a conclusion.
“The court has decided to reinvestigate the case,” Judge Chhun Heng announced, adding that it needed “to carry out further investigation of the Facebook accounts of Pheng Vannak and Hang Borey,” but giving no further details.
Mr. Vannak was the deputy director of the anti-cybercrime bureau in the Interior Ministry’s internal security department until being suspended recently. He has maintained that his post did not amount to defamation. He says it was merely a public notification of the legal action Ms. Maly was taking against Prum San, an Information Ministry official whom she sued for $3,750 over claims he made on Facebook that she was the fourth wife of Lieutenant General Socheat.
Ms. Borey, who has been identified by the court only as a “senior” Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer and is being sued by Ms. Maly for $100,000, claimed in hearings that her Facebook page was hacked in July and August, when posts from her account announced that Ms. Maly and
Lt. Gen. Socheat were in a sexual relationship.
As he left the courtroom Monday, Mr. Vannak, who is being sued for $50,000, welcomed the reinvestigation and defended the rights of citizens to express themselves freely online.
“I hope there will be justice for Facebook users,” he said.
Theng Meng Y, the legal representative for Ms. Maly—who also successfully sued Lt. Gen. Socheat’s wife, Mam Manut, over defamatory posts—questioned the judge’s decision.
“I wonder why the court has decided to reinvestigate, as it has enough evidence and [Mr. Vannak] has admitted that he wrote the post on his Facebook page,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Vannak is also being investigated over a 2013 post he made on Facebook of a picture of a revolver and seven rounds with a message threatening the life of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.
The Interior Ministry has been mum on the progress of that investigation. Mr. Vannak has claimed that the Facebook page from which the post was made was a fake.
“I don’t want to say too much. They are investigating and if they find an offense, let them follow the law,” he said.