Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

CPP Sues Candlelight Advisor Kong Korm, Demands $500,000 in Damages

Candlelight Party supreme advisor Kong Korm (center) speaks during a meeting with party members in Tbong Khmum province on January 7, 2023. (Candlelight Party)
Candlelight Party supreme advisor Kong Korm (center) speaks during a meeting with party members in Tbong Khmum province on January 7, 2023. (Candlelight Party)

The ruling Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Candlelight party’s top advisor Kong Korm, demanding $500,000 in damages. 

The CPP’s lawsuit, submitted to the Tbong Khmum provincial court, claimed that Korm made comments about the January 7 “Victory Day,” which demonstrated malicious intent to incite unrest and societal insecurity. He had been giving a speech at the inauguration of the party’s new headquarters in Tbong Khmum province on the day of the national holiday.

The lawsuit includes a one page transcription of quotes from Korm’s speech. While the lawsuit does not provide specific analysis about the selected quotes, they appear to imply that the CPP was created and sustained by foreign powers.

“I used to be with the CPP, at that time they told me that when drinking water we should remember the source of the water which…is in the East, planted by a long beard, a foreigner” the lawsuit quotes Korm as saying. The Khmer legal document was translated unofficially to English by CamboJA.

Korm, who served as a CPP foreign affairs minister in the 1980s before switching to the Sam Rainsy party in 1992, said he was surprised by the lawsuit and stated the accusations against him are baseless. 

“I did not attack [January 7] and the CPP’s origins, I only focused on the Candlelight Party,” he said. “I don’t see how my comments made any malicious intent to incite and cause social unrest.”  

Korm said he will continue to be present at all Candlelight’s political events until election day.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said insulting the January 7 victory day means insulting the country as a whole. The national holiday celebrates the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime after Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia and occupied the country for a decade, eventually leading to CPP rule.

“This is not an act of oppression as alleged by some people, but rather a reminder to them,” Eysan said. “Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly declared that all politicians should be careful of irresponsible speech which hurts the CPP’s honor.”

The complaint was made a day after Hun Sen lashed out at Kong Korm, claiming that Korm had repeatedly attacked the CPP and warning him he would face either legal action or mob violence. 

Hun Sen warned on Monday that he might seize Korm’s property, claiming Korm illegally built a house on state property following Korm’s time as a CPP official and foreign affairs minister in the 1980s. Korm said he did not believe Hun Sen was threatening him but rather “reminding” him. 

Hun Sen has ordered CPP lawyers nationwide to closely monitor the political activities of opposition groups and review their leaders’ public remarks. 

“I ask the CPP lawyers in all provinces to do this job,” he said. “When you [lawyers] listen to their voice recordings, you need to check carefully if it is necessary to file a lawsuit.”

The CPP and the National Election Committee already sued Candlelight co-vice president Son Chhay for defamation after he claimed the electoral process was biased in favor of the CPP. Chhay was ordered by courts to pay $1 million in damages to the CPP and authorities have seized two of his properties in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in the event he cannot pay.

Workers dismantle the former CNRP headquarters and home of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh on January 11, 2023. (CamboJA / Pring Samrang)

A defamation case against Sam Rainsy was also brought by Hun Sen and two top ruling party officials led to the seizure of Rainsy’s Phnom Penh house, which also served as the CNRP headquarters. sold in 2021 It was sold for $1.6 million to pay back damages.