Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

CSOs Call For Withdrawal of Lawsuit Against Soeng Senkaruna

Phnom Penh Municipal Court, September 6, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Phnom Penh Municipal Court, September 6, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Fifty five civil society organizations on February 14, 2024 called for the withdrawal of the complaint against Soeng Senkaruna, senior official of human rights group Adhoc, and for the government to immediately end all forms of harassment against human rights defenders and activists. 

The CSOs expressed their disappointment over Senkaruna’s legal threats following a comment attributed to him in a news report.

“We stand in solidarity with Senkaruna and every Cambodian working to peacefully promote and defend human rights.” 

On February 2, Cambodia Daily Khmer published an article carrying Senkaruna’s comment where he allegedly said political issues should be settled through dialogue rather than the court. The report also quoted Senkaruna as saying that the “ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has frequently utilized the courts to oppress opposition parties”. 

Soon after, the CPP filed a lawsuit against Senkaruna for allegedly making a comment that might “provoke unrest and incite hatred against CPP, and [which] could affect the upcoming Senate election”, due on February 25.

However, on February 7, the Cambodia Daily Khmer media announced a correction to their article for “adding quotes”’ to Senkaruna’s comment. Unfortunately, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan declared that there would be no compromise.

In their joint statement, the CSOs said freedom to express political criticism is protected under Cambodia’s Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Cambodia is a party. Therefore, “this type of speech should not be criminalized or repressed”. 

Heng Kimhong, president of the Cambodian Youth Network Association (CYN), told CamboJA that Senkaruna’s case is a misunderstanding. He said Senkaruna has already clarified the matter, while Cambodia Daily corrected Senkaruna’s comment. Based on all this, CPP can consider withdrawing the complaint.

“In a democracy, opinions are always different, and with the explanations, I hope that former Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP can accept and consider withdrawing a complaint,” he said. If the CPP withdraws the complaint, it is a sign of respect for the freedom of expression in Cambodia, Kimhong added.

Meanwhile, CPP’s Sok Eysan said the views of civil society organizations regarding this case differ from CPP officials, who felt that Senkaruna’s comment on Facebook or the media has a long-term impact. Thus, the request to withdraw the complaint is too late, despite the correction made by Cambodia Daily, he told CamboJA.

The complaint filed by the CPP lawyers is already in court, he said, reiterating that “there will be no negotiations, only a settlement by court”.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal said Senkaruna’s case is being investigated by the prosecutor, and the relevant parties have been summoned for questioning. He declined to comment further. 

According to the CSOs, the legal threat is the “latest in an onslaught of strategic lawsuits and criminal charges leveled against activists and political opponents, aimed at undermining public participation and silencing all forms of dissent”. 

At least 37 prisoners of interest, including political activists, land activists and others, are currently imprisoned in Cambodia.