US Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Cambodian Government

A U.S. lawsuit accusing the Cambodian government of the wrongful imprisonment of a CNRP official was dismissed by a judge earlier this month because the court did not have sufficient jurisdiction over a foreign government after Prime Minister Hun Sen’s oldest son was dropped as a co-defendant in the case last month, according to those involved.

Opposition official Meach Sovannara, who is a dual U.S.-Cambodian citizen, originally brought the suit against Lieutenant General Hun Manet, who holds several top military posts, and the Cambodian government last year for Mr. Sovannara’s “arbitrary, extra-legal and long-term detention.”

cam photo sovannara
Opposition CNRP official Meach Sovannara is escorted into the Supreme Court in 2015 for a bail hearing. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Sovannara was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2015 for “insurrection” during a 2014 protest that turned violent.

But last month, the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California dropped Lt. Gen. Manet from the case after Mr. Sovannara’s lawyer, Morton Sklar, failed to convince the judge that Lt. Gen. Manet had been properly served legal papers.

Judge George Wu dismissed the case against the Cambodian government on May 12, saying it could not legally proceed in his court.

“[T]he only federal court with jurisdiction over a case where the defendant is a foreign government is the Washington DC court,” Mr. Sklar said in an email yesterday. “Initially we were able to file the case in California because Hun Manet was present in that jurisdiction as an additional named defendant. When that circumstance changed…the case had to be shifted to the Washington DC court.”

Mr. Sklar said he intended to refile the case against the Cambodian government with the federal court in Washington.

He added that CNRP lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun—who was brutally attacked outside the National Assembly in October 2015 by three members of Mr. Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit—each of whom spent only a year in prison for the crime—would be added as a plaintiff in the new filing, but didn’t give any further details.

But according to Lt. Gen. Manet’s attorney, Christopher Beres, Judge Wu’s dismissal of the case was “an expected outcome.”

They lodged the complaint in the U.S. court, rather than in Cambodia, “for the fairness that it afforded them, and this is the result. They just simply could not produce any evidence to support their allegations,” he said.

“I don’t think that he’s going to have any better luck” filing in Washington, he added.

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