On the eve of today’s court hearing, two students accused of defaming the pro-CPP Pagoda Boys association said their case was hatched to keep them on the sidelines of the general elections.
“They want to eliminate our group before the election, because they are afraid that when the election is not free and fair, we will hold demonstrations against them,” Ly Setha, who faces a defamation suit along with Lay Sovan, said Monday.
The Pagoda Boys filed the suit in connection with a petition last month that disparaged the group.
Both men are university students and members of opposition parties.
Lay Sovan, who signed the petition as Lay Van Say, is a parliamentary candidate for the Khmer Front Party, and Ly Setha says he is a self-professed activist for the Sam Rainsy Party.
Attorneys for the two men will appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court today for questioning. The two said they would not attend the hearing out of fear that authorities would detain them through the July 27 polls.
“After the election, I will go to the court to respond according to the law,” Ly Setha said.
They say the petition, signed by about 230 students, was meant to clear the name of pagoda students who are misrepresented by the association.
“I am very upset that when my friend applied to work, he was refused because he is a pagoda boy,” Ly Setha said.
“We want to show the public that we are not the members of the pagoda association, because I am afraid about my fate, that when I finish my faculty, no one will offer me a job,” he said.
The Pagoda Boys, officially named the Pagoda Children, Intelligentsia and Students Association, claim to be a pro-Hun Sen defense group. They organize counter-demonstrations at protests and demonstrations by labor unions and student groups.
Violence has at times erupted at their demonstrations, and critics say they are instruments of the government to put down dissent.
The group receives government funding as an NGO and denies that its 4,000 members are used as CPP bullies.
Lay Sovan said the Pagoda Boys had threatened to kill and imprison him, and the Khmer Front Party has called on aid organizations and human rights groups to protect him.
The suit and the threats were a ploy to stall the party’s progress, he said.
The director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights agreed. “The government right now, they want to eliminate youth groups and NGOs which are against the government by using the courts,” said Kem Sokha.
“These are freedoms, to issue a petition to clarify something that is not true. This is not defamation,” Kem Soka said.
In other election news, four suspects linked to the killings of political activists have been arrested in the past week, Chief of General Staff of National Police Mao Chandara said Monday. The arrests had not helped investigators determine the motives of the attacks, he said.
Meanwhile, Beehive Radio has resumed broadcast of election news produced by US-based Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. The Ministry of Information had threatened to stop the broadcasts last week until NGOs and representatives of donor countries spoke out in favor of Beehive.
Also, the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association issued a statement Monday urging students, teachers and civil servants to vote Prime Minister Hun Sen out of office.
Today Hun Sen will meet villagers in the rice fields of Kandal province, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh will be in Kompong Speu province and Sam Rainsy will visit Oddar Meanchey province.