Rainsy Hit With New Facebook Lawsuit as Appeal Is Heard

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was hit with a fresh defamation lawsuit on Tuesday over claims made on Facebook that Prime Minister Hun Sen offered $1 million to a young political operative to attack the CNRP, the same day the Court of Appeal conducted a hearing over another Facebook-related conviction against the exiled politician.

Thy Sovantha, who became a social media celebrity as a CNRP supporter, but turned on the party last year, filed a defamation suit with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court demanding $250,000 in compensation over comments Mr. Rainsy made on Facebook accusing her of colluding with the prime minister.

cam photo rainsy WEB
Sam Rainsy in France last month, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

“The accusation is slanderous and an exaggeration, claiming and accusing me about bad things and it has seriously impacted on my honor, fame and reputation,” the complaint read.

A series of online messages were leaked in November, allegedly showing Mr. Hun Sen promising Ms. Sovantha $1 million to launch attacks against the CNRP’s leadership. Though the two users refer to each other as “grandpa” and “grandchild,” references to Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet chief and bodyguard chief fueled the speculation.

After news of the lawsuit broke, Mr. Rainsy doubled down on his claims in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon.

“I confirm saying that Hun Sen proposed $1m for Thy Sovantha, based on a Hun Sen Facebook message which he has not denied,” he wrote.

Mr. Rainsy, who is living in France, was found guilty in absentia in November for claiming in a Facebook post that government minister Som Soeun had instructed officials to create fake accounts in order to boost the prime minister’s perceived online popularity.

Nget Sarath, an Appeal Court prosecutor, said on Tuesday that the decision to order Mr. Rainsy to pay a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500, and compensation of 15 million riel, or about $3,750, to Mr. Soeun, the plaintiff, should be upheld.

Mr. Hun Sen’s Facebook page experienced a surge in support early last year from accounts in countries including India and the Philippines, where “click farms”—firms that use cheap labor to create fake social media popularity—are known to operate.

“If he said that he hired the poor people, where can we find the poor people? Because the poor people live in the forest and are tending cows and buffaloes,” Mr. Sarath said.

Speaking outside court, Mr. Soeun accused Mr. Rainsy of making the claims out of jealousy after Mr. Hun Sen proved to be the superior Facebook politician.

“Mr. Sam Rainsy used Facebook for two years before Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen]…and now [Mr. Rainsy] is failing at using Facebook,” he said. “He protested like when he lost the election.”

A decision in the appeal is expected on February 9.

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