During a brief but heated trial in Phnom Penh Monday, an Information Ministry official and the wife of a military general defended themselves against defamation charges stemming from messages they posted to Facebook accusing the general of having an affair with a CPP senator.
Prum San, deputy director of the Information Ministry’s information department, and Mam Manut, the wife of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Seak Socheat, were charged with defamation last month over messages and photographs they posted in July.
Interviewed last week, Mr. San and Ms. Manut said they both took to Facebook to accuse Senator Keo Maly of being the mistress of Lt. Gen. Socheat after Ms. Manut approached Mr. San and told him that she suspected the general was having an affair with the senator and several other women, and that she feared losing her husband and children to divorce.
The defamation case was brought against the pair by Ms. Maly, who has denied having an affair with the general and is demanding tens of thousands of dollars in damages. The crime carries a fine of up to $2,500.
At the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Monday morning, Presiding Judge Mong Mony Sorphea grilled Mr. San about his decision to post his message, but barely allowed the 52-year-old bureaucrat to get a word in edgewise, repeatedly interrupting him with leading questions.
“Why did you post false information on Facebook?” the judge asked.
When Mr. San opened his mouth to respond, the judge broke in: “What made you want to publish something to defame Ms. Keo Maly? If someone published information that defamed you, how would you feel?”
Visibly angry, Mr. San fired back: “If your wife had an affair with another man, how would you feel?”
“I am the court. You cannot ask me to make this comparison,” the judge responded, at which point Mr. San apologized for his outburst and remained silent as Theng Meng Y, a lawyer for Ms. Maly—who, along with Lt. Gen. Socheat, was not present in court—took the floor.
Echoing the judge, Mr. Meng Y began by asking Mr. San why he had posted a defamatory Facebook message, rephrasing the question several times but refusing to give the defendant a chance to answer.
When Mr. San finally attempted to speak, Mr. Meng Y said: “Stop speaking out of context. You are an accused person; you must answer my questions directly.”
“I am not guilty, so I have the right to say what I want,” Mr. San responded.
Mr. Meng Y then went on to accuse Mr. San of harming the reputation of “all Khmer women” and said that the senator’s advanced age and religious beliefs precluded her from having the sex drive required for an extramarital affair.
“My client is a Buddhist woman, and I believe that she would not be able to do what she is accused of because she is old and has no sexual feelings,” he said.
Ms. Manut’s lawyer, Keo Vanny, later countered that even some people in their 80s had sexual desires and adulterous tendencies.
When it was her turn to take the stand, the 35-year-old Ms. Manut maintained that her husband, who is in his 60s, had multiple mistresses. She accused the court of tampering with evidence, noting that a photograph of the general with Ms. Maly that was among those she uploaded to Facebook in July had been presented to the court with her husband cropped out.
“Why did the court show only the image of Keo Maly, but remove the image of Seak Socheat? And they have charged me with defamation?” Ms. Manut said.
At the close of proceedings, Mr. Meng Y announced that his client had reduced her compensation demands. Last week, the senator said she wanted $500,000 from Mr. San. Monday, her lawyer said she was asking for $50,000 from Mr. San and $100,000 from Ms. Manut.
Judge Mony Sorphea said a verdict would be announced Monday.