The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged human rights NGO director Kem Sokha of defaming Funcinpec and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, a court official said Sunday.
Deputy prosecutor Nget Sarath said the court found sufficient evidence Thursday that Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, falsely accused Prince Ranariddh of taking bribes—including a small passenger jet from Prime Minister Hun Sen in exchange for entering a new coalition government with the CPP—for the lawsuit against him to proceed.
Kem Sokha’s “mistake was he did not speak the truth,” Nget Sarath said.
The airplane in question was transferred from the Prime Minister to Prince Ranariddh in May, months before the two leaders reached a deal to form the new government together in July, according to government documents.
The plane, however, was handed over to the prince to transport government officials, not his personal use, the prosecutor said.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen offered the airplane on behalf of the head of the government, not [as deputy president of] the CPP,” he added.
The defamation suit against Kem Sokha was launched in September by Funcinpec Secretary-General and co-Interior Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh, on behalf of Prince Ranariddh. That complaint was filed amid a flurry of lawsuits between Cambodia’s political leaders, including a second defamation suit filed by Prince Sirivudh against Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Chea Poch.
Chea Poch is accused of defaming Prince Ranariddh with the same allegations against the Funcinpec leader, saying he accepted the airplane from Hun Sen as well as $30 million to join the CPP in government.
On Sunday, Nget Sarath said the municipal court has filed a request to the Ministry of Justice, asking the Assembly to strip Chea Poch’s parliamentary immunity so that he may be sued. The court is awaiting a response, he said.
Kem Sokha on Sunday decried the lawsuits, saying they were aimed at silencing criticism of Funcinpec.
“It is very unjust. They have threatened us not to use our freedom of expression,” he said.
He balked at Prince Sirivudh’s request that the court demand he and Chea Poch each pay $25,000 for damaging Prince Ranariddh’s reputation.
“I will not pay compensation to Prince Norodom Ranariddh because he is a public figure. We can criticize him [legally],” Kem Sokha said.
Calls made to Chea Poch were unsuccessful Sunday.