Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would temporarily waive his parliamentary immunity to face a defamation lawsuit launched against him by Prime Minister Hun Sen, and urged the premier to do the same.
After filing a countersuit against Hun Sen in the municipal court Monday morning, Sam Rainsy said he would defend himself in court, as long as the investigation and prosecution of the defamation case against him was fair.
“If the prosecution and the investigation first is proceeding seriously [and is] acceptable by everybody according to international standards of justice, I accept that my parliamentary immunity be lifted, at least temporarily lifted, so that I could answer the court,” Sam Rainsy told reporters at his party headquarters. “And I hope Hun Sen will be as courageous.”
Hun Sen and the government filed defamation suits against Sam Rainsy last week, after the opposition leader claimed the ruling CPP was responsible for the Jan 22 killing of prominent union leader Chea Vichea. In his complaint, Hun Sen demanded $5 million in compensation.
In response, Sam Rainsy filed a criminal suit against Hun Sen, alleging the premier masterminded the 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 13 people and injured more than 120 at a rally led by the opposition leader in Phnom Penh. Sam Rainsy said he demanded Hun Sen pay $50 million in compensation and serve a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
“I think there are many people, including me, who think that Hun Sen’s honor is not worth $5 million—much less, very much less,” Sam Rainsy said. “I have asked for much bigger [compensation] because it is my life.”
Sam Rainsy cited newspaper reports and an October 1999 US Senate staff report on the grenade attack, saying they supported his allegation that Hun Sen was behind it.
He added that the French government is also looking into a similar court complaint over the grenade attack, which Sam Rainsy, who is a French citizen, filed there against Hun Sen in 2002.
The French Embassy in Phnom Penh did not have any information on the case when contacted Monday.
Sam Rainsy said his party is conducting its own investigation into the shooting death of Chea Vichea and is gathering evidence to back his earlier claims that the CPP was responsible for the killing.
But on Monday, he deflected reporters’ questions about whether the party had proof of who had ordered the killing.
Two men, whom police allege were hired to kill Chea Vichea, were charged with intentional killing on Saturday. Police have yet to disclose who they think hired the men or why Chea Vichea was killed.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Monday welcomed Sam Rainsy’s offer to waive his parliamentary immunity. But, he said, Hun Sen would not likely do the same unless the court requested him to do so, since he serves as the head of the government. He added that the prime minister has appointed a lawyer to represent him in court.
Khieu Kanharith denied Hun Sen was involved in either Chea Vichea’s slaying or the 1997 grenade attack, adding he did not believe Sam Rainsy had evidence to prove otherwise.
“I am very confident about this point,” he said.
Also on Monday, Eng Chhay Eang, the Sam Rainsy Party’s secretary-general, said he also filed defamation suits in Phnom Penh Municipal Court against three men who accused him of ordering a death threat against Chea Vichea in July.
The three men were Deputy Municipal Military Police Chief Sim Hong, Men Vatana—who allegedly carried out the threat—and state-run TVK commentator Pang Nath.
Pang Nath on Sunday denied he defamed Eng Chhay Eang, saying he merely broadcast a “normal report” of his one-on-one interview with the suspect.
Contacted on Monday, Sim Hong, who is in charge of investigating the threat against Chea Vichea, said he is not worried about the lawsuit.
“I don’t care that Eng Chhay Eang sues me. I stand for justice,” Sim Hong said. “I will sue him back.”
He added that Men Vatana is in Prey Sar prison, but did not say whether he has been charged.
Meanwhile, Eng Chhay Eang has been summoned to Kompong Cham Provincial Court Feb 17
to answer for a public disorder case involving one of his party members, according to a court statement released Monday evening.
Sim Kuch, Kompong Cham provincial court chief, said Eng Chhay Eang will be called to testify for a Sam Rainsy Party activist, Keo Sotheara, 20, who has been jailed for the past two months after he allegedly appeared in court falsely claiming to be the new court chief on orders from the party’s secretary-general.
Eng Chhay Eang denied any involvement in the case Monday.