Imprisoned CNRP official Meach Sovannara has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, and the Cambodian government, accusing them of “terrorism” and “torture through arbitrary, extra-legal, and long-term detention.”
Lieutenant General Manet is currently traveling in the U.S., and an article published there on Monday claimed that a man who had allegedly been assaulted by his bodyguards in Los Angeles on Saturday was attempting to serve Lt. Gen. Manet legal papers for the case.
According to a filing made in California on Friday and obtained last night, lawyers for Mr. Sovannara—who is a U.S. citizen—are requesting that Lt. Gen. Manet and the Cambodian government itself be put on trial for damages resulting from Mr. Sovannara’s imprisonment.
Mr. Sovannara was one of 11 found guilty last year of “leading an insurrection” and sentenced to 20 years in prison for a 2014 opposition protest that devolved into a violent street brawl between CNRP supporters and state security guards.
The filing requests a trial to hear claims for damages for “torture through arbitrary, extra-legal, and long-term detention,” “acts of international terrorism,” “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” “assault,” “battery,” “false imprisonment” and “loss of consortium” with his wife.
Lt. Gen. Manet’s “actions taken against…Meach Sovannara and his family were part of a systematic and long-standing campaign of persecution and torture carried out by the Hun Sen government in Cambodia,” it says.
The filing, made by Morton Sklar, a longtime lawyer for Cambodia’s opposition, makes the case that the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which prevents foreign officials being brought to trial in the U.S., provides exceptions for torts seeking monetary damages.
It claims that Lt. Gen. Manet was responsible for the brawl that took place at Freedom Park in July 2014, for the arrest of Mr. Sovannara in November that year and for his ongoing jailing in Phnom Penh.
“It was in Hun Manet’s official capacities, and under his authority and jurisdiction and control, that the acts of torture against…Meach Sovannara that are the subject of this lawsuit took place,” the filing argues.
“The military and security forces that…Hun Manet heads were principally involved in maintaining order at the political demonstration in Freedom Park on July 15, 2014, [and] the attacks that were directed against the civilian demonstrators at that protest event,” it continues.
“They also were responsible for filing the criminal charges placed against…Meach Sovannara that led to his arrest, prosecution and long-term imprisonment.”
The filing represents the first suggestion that Lt. Gen. Manet, who is the head of the Defense Ministry’s counterterrorism department and deputy commander of his father’s bodyguard unit, had any hand in the 2014 violence or in Mr. Sovannara’s arrest and jailing, although it provides no evidence to support the claim.
Besides that, the filing argues that Lt. Gen. Manet should stand trial for “international terrorism” under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, due to the alleged torture he has inflicted on Mr. Sovannara during his imprisonment.
U.S. law, the filing says, defines “international terrorism” as “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State.”
“Since acts of torture are made subject to criminal sanctions [in the U.S.]…and also are defined as covering the type of treatment that…Meach Sovanarra [sic] has been subject to by…Hun Manet and his subordinates, they come under the definition of ‘international terrorism,” it says.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that he could not take the case against Lt. Gen. Manet seriously.
“They have a right to sue whoever they want or lodge a complaint, but we have to understand there are jurisdictions. Let me explain to you: U.S. citizens, if you are overseas, you file a complaint there,” Mr. Siphan said.
“If there’s something wrong in my native country, I have to file the complaint in my native country. This is nothing related to Hun Manet. It happened in Cambodia.”
“This is a phony claim. They want to make a silly case through the media. It’s nothing to do with the law.”
Mr. Sklar, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment last night. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he was unaware of the filing.
Lt. Gen. Manet’s tour of the U.S. got off to a rocky start on Saturday, with Cambodian-American protesters and the official’s bodyguards appearing to clash outside a restaurant, with videos showing a man who claimed to have been beaten by a guard.
“I was serving a subpoena, and I got thrown down by the security and I hit my head,” says the man, who gives his name as Paul. “When it first happened, when I lay down, I couldn’t move for 30 seconds. I couldn’t move my arms or my legs; I was paralyzed.”
He denied that he was part of the protest against Lt. Gen. Manet, saying: “I have nothing to do with it. I had papers that I was trying to serve,” before declining to show the subpoena. “I can’t show you. I really can’t. I’ve really probably said too much,” he says in the video.
An article on the Huffington Post on Monday said that the man was attempting to serve papers to Lt. Gen. Manet.
“Saturday night outside the La Lune Restaurant in Long Beach, California, where Manet was having dinner, a process server arrived to serve papers on the case,” the article says. “The process server notified the police of what he was doing and was allowed to go forward.”
“Manet’s bodyguards were not pleased. There was a scuffle. The process server was slammed hard to the ground by one of the bodyguards, landing on his head and spine,” it said. “Long Beach police detectives, however, were at the hospital Saturday night questioning the process server.”