SRP lawmaker Ho Vann is scheduled to appear for questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today over a mass defamation and incitement lawsuit filed against him by 22 of the country’s most senior military officers, who were irked by what the parliamentarian said about their academic credentials.
Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun has summoned the lawmaker to appear before him for questioning over remarks Mr Vann made to the press concerning post-graduate degrees bestowed upon the RCAF officials by a Vietnamese military institution in April.
On Wednesday, four senior RCAF officials were questioned by Mr Roeun—who is also the court official handling Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lawsuit against SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua and a disinformation suit lodged by the government against an opposition-affiliated newspaper editor.
According to a source familiar with the case, the four RCAF officials—Military Court Chief Prosecutor Prum Sornthon; First Brigade Commander Prum Pheng; Ty Sereyvuth, an assistant to Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun; and Defense Ministry geography department Director Tep Chamroeun-are the only ones of the 22 plaintiffs to give testimony at the court so far.
When reached by telephone Thursday, Mr Pheng confirmed that he had been questioned by the deputy prosecutor but refused to give further details.
“I have told the deputy prosecutor; any questions, please ask the court,” he said before hanging up his phone. Mr Chamroeun, however, said that during his questioning he asked the court to proceed with the case against Mr Vann.
“Let the court work on the case,” he said before declining to answer further questions.
According to copies acquired Thursday of the statements given by the four military officials to Deputy Prosecutor Roeun, the four men gave the exact same testimony—down to the letter. According to the documents, the same handwritten testimony was used and apparently photocopied before simply adding the name of each of the RCAF officials.
All four officials claimed in the identical statements that they were master’s degree students at the Vietnamese Infantry Institute from 2004 to 2007 and successfully completed their degree program.
“During my studies I tried very hard until I successfully finished with good credits evaluated by the Vietnamese Accreditation Council,” the men testified, according to copies of the four reports compiled by the deputy prosecutor.
“The interview has affected my reputation and insulted my certificates aimed at inciting criminal offenses,” the four officials’ testimonies go on to say of Mr Vann’s comment. “I would like to request the court to charge Ho Vann according to the law and demanded 10 million riel,” they added.
According to a copy, also acquired Thursday, of the complaint filed against Ho Vann by the law firm, Cambodian Legal Affairs Office, on behalf of the 22 RCAF officials, plaintiffs in the case include some of the topmost officials in the military, such as RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim.
In that complaint, plaintiff lawyers Kheng Ly and Tann Mengsroy wrote that “all the interview content of Ho Vann was false information and aimed at defaming my clients and inciting to provoke criminal offense.”
“All Ho Vann’s comment incited the senior soldiers and soldiers not to respect their leaders and commit crimes which lead to social crisis,” the complaint continued.
Mr Vann said Thursday that he would appear before Deputy Prosecutor Roeun for questioning and reiterated that he didn’t defame anyone.
“I didn’t make any mistakes. I already clarified my statement in the media,” he said, referring to a letter to the editor in which he said that for the most part the degrees to the RCAF officers were appropriate.
“It was my opinion. As a lawmaker, I must give my own opinions to the media and public,” he said.
Mr Mengsroy refused to comment about the complaint he filed. Mr Roeun could not be reached for comment.