Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday dismissed claims that the increase in defamation and disinformation lawsuits filed by the country’s highest authorities against government critics threatened freedom of expression and called on government lawyers to continue suing.
The prime minister’s comments came on the heels of a Monday statement issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia condemning the rash of lawsuits, calling them “excessive and unjustified.”
In its statement, the UN said that the lawsuits “undermine the constitutional freedom of opinion and expression, which everyone in Cambodia is entitled to.”
“You can’t use the language that this is pressure against freedom of expression,” Mr Hun Sen said during a speech at the Royal School of Administration in Phnom Penh. The court “is a ruler who defines who is right or wrong. There is only the court. Why can’t we use it?” he asked.
The prime minister called on Cabinet Minister Sok An to ask lawyers to continue suing critics of the government.
“We will also file complaints against NGOs,” he said. “They have lowered our grade of freedom of expression. I have worked hard and they gave me negative results.”
The prime minister said that using the courts to find justice for the government was a minor act compared to what he is capable of doing.
“I have never wanted to use my prime minister power,” he said. “It just takes less than a few hours; soldiers and the police officers. The prime minister can order anything,” he said.
“I cannot order the Assembly, Senate, the courts,” he added.
As is his custom, the prime minister did not name names during his speech, but apparently raised the issue of his own controversial defamation lawsuit against SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, saying that it was “too late” to compromise.
“I want to protect my reputation even though I am prime minister,” he said of the lawsuit he filed against the SRP lawmaker for publicly accusing him of defaming her in an April speech.
The National Assembly on Monday is scheduled to vote on whether to lift Ms Sochua’s parliamentary immunity so that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court can proceed with the premier’s case against her.
Mr Hun Sen added that the As-
sembly’s permanent committee called him to request that he seek a compromise in his case against Ms Sochua. “I said that it was too late. I will let the whole process work,” he said, adding that the opposition “should find another candidate,” apparently to replace Ms Sochua.
“I am afraid that we can easily strip her immunity, but it is difficult to restore her immunity,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen added that he had heard that some NGOs are planning to demonstrate if Ms Sochua, who has vowed not to pay compensation if found guilty of defaming the prime minister, is sent to prison. If such a demonstration is held, the prime minister said, he will hold a counter demonstration of his own.
“Those people who want to hold demonstration, they must think that government supporters have the right to hold a demonstration [too],” he said.
“Thorns cure thorns,” he said.
Ms Sochua declined to comment Wednesday on the premier’s saber-rattling speech.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said by telephone that the prime minister’s words were, in fact, an order to the Assembly to lift Ms Sochua’s immunity.
“This speech has ordered the Assembly to strip her immunity. This is a dictatorship,” Mr Sovann said.
The prime minister on Wednes-
day also criticized an unnamed person—apparently US Ambassador Carol Rodley—for comments made on “May 30” claiming that the country loses $500 million a year due to graft.
“They used the forum to criticize the government [saying] the government lost $500 million a year,” Mr Hun Sen said in his speech.
“It was a perfect figure because the figure was announced by those who committed the corruption,” he said, referring to an anti-corruption concert organized by the NGO Pact Cambodia in Phnom Penh on May 30 and at which Ambassador Rodley said that corruption in the country is costing as much as $500 million in lost revenue each year.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Fair and Free El-
ections in Cambodia, said that instead of defamation lawsuits, the government should be focused on other more pressing issues.
“We want them to compromise so that they can focus on social issues, such as the financial crisis and land issues,” Mr Panha said by telephone, adding that he believed that, despite the prime minister’s strong words, there is still hope of reconciliation between the two sides.
“I do believe there will be a compromise,” he added.