Government lawsuits against an SRP lawmaker and the editor-in-chief of a local newspaper violates the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said in a statement on Monday.
Chheat Sreang, project coordinator for CCHR, said his organization has been carefully monitoring the lawsuit against Mu Sochua, who traded defamation suits with Prime Minister Hun Sen in April, and the government’s lawsuit against Khmer Machas Srok’s editor-in-chief Hang Chakra, which followed a recent article about Cabinet Minister Sok An.
“It is clear that the government through these lawsuits want to limit freedom of expression for the opposition,” Mr Sreang said.
“If the government is really keen to promote freedom of expression in Cambodia and want this to be a democratic country they should withdraw their lawsuits,” he said. The lawsuit demonstrate how the ruling party is trying to silence the opposition, he added.
Reached by phone Monday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied that government is using the lawsuits to silence the opposition and the media. He said the SRP filed their lawsuit against the premier first, which then provoked a counter-lawsuit. As a private citizen, the premier has the right to file a suit when he is attacked, Mr Siphan added.
“We [the government] don’t accuse anyone, we let the court decide,” he said.
When asked about the lawsuit against Mr Chakra, he said that newspapers have the right to print information but that they must take responsibility for inaccuracies.
“I think that in an open society people can express anything…but make sure everyone is respectful of the law and takes responsibility,” he added.
Ms Sochua will appear in court on June 6 and Mr Chakra has been summoned for questioning on June 3.
Defamation lawsuits have also been recently filed against SRP lawmaker Ho Vann by 22 members of the military, some of whom are CPP members, and Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema, also a CPP member, against opposition leader Sam Rainsy.
(Additional reporting by Cajsa Collin)