Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Appeal Court Upholds Son Chhay Defamation Ruling, ups Damages Owed to CPP to $1 million

Candlelight Party vice president, Son Chhay speaks to reporters outside of the Court of Appeal after attending his hearing, December 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Candlelight Party vice president, Son Chhay speaks to reporters outside of the Court of Appeal after attending his hearing, December 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

The Appeal Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling finding  Candlelight Party vice president, Son Chhay, guilty of defamation against the Cambodian People’s Party and ordered him to pay  4 billion riel ($1 million) in damages — an increase by a third of what the lower court ordered. 

After Chhay said there had been voting irregularities and electoral fraud in the June 5 Commune Elections, the CPP filed a defamation suit asking for $1 million in damages over Chhay’s claim that the NEC was biased in the ruling party’s favor while the NEC filed another a lawsuit, saying he had defamed the election body.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court in October ordered Chhay to pay the ruling CPP 3 billion riel ($750,000) in damages and 8 million riel (about $2,000), finding him guilty of defamation. In the second case, brought by the NEC, the Municipal Court ruled that Chhay must pay the state 9 million riel (about $2,250) in fines. Chhay appealed both rulings. 

Judge Suos Sam Ath announced the verdict at 6 pm after a four-hour hearing. In addition to raising damages to $1 million, Sam Ath ruled that Chhay must also pay a total of 20 million riel (about $4,865) in fines in both cases brought by CPP and the National Election Committee. 

“We understand that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision has enough​ integrity,” he said.

Son Chhay and his lawyer left the courtroom before the verdict.

During the hearing Wednesday afternoon, CPP lawyer Ky Tech asked the court to order Chhay to pay CPP the full $1 million demanded in the complaint.

“Three billion riel is not enough, that’s why I demand more, so that Mr. Son Chhay will not dare to accuse [CPP] anymore,” he said. “You have never met this compensation, now you have met.”

Chhay’s attorney Chuong Choungy told CamboJA the court’s decision was unjust and he would discuss with his client about appealing to the Supreme Court. 

“It is very unjust for him, he just advocated for democracy in Cambodia, but he has suffered an injustice and this lets more than 10 million Cambodians judge about the independence of the judiciary,” he said.

“I have nothing to comment on, because freedom in Cambodia is getting narrow, as a lawyer, I also dare not to speak more,” he added.

Last month, the court issued a warrant to temporarily seize two of Chhay’s properties to ensure payment to the CPP after the party was awarded damages.

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