Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Former PM Hun Sen Threatens Adhoc’s Soeng Senkaruna With Lawsuit Following Comments in Media Report

Adhoc office in Phnom Penh on February 5, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Adhoc office in Phnom Penh on February 5, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Updated: The ruling CPP has filed a lawsuit against outspoken human rights group Adhoc Soeng Senkaruna for allegedly making a comment believed to provoke unrest and incite hatred against the Cambodian People’s Party. It was also intended to affect the Senate election on February 25, 2024, according to a complaint published by Fresh News.

In the complaint, CPP has urged the court to consider their request to indict and sentence Soeng Senkaruna in accordance with the law. A compensation of two billion riel (approximately $500,000) has also been demanded from him.

The president of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has threatened to sue outspoken human rights group Adhoc Soeng Senkaruna for making a comment, which was allegedly viewed as an insult to CPP.

Ex-prime minister and ruling CPP president Hun Sen posted on his Facebook on Sunday that there will be no tolerance against those who attack the party.

“In the [news] publication, there is also a speech by Soeng Senkaruna. I would like to ask the party’s lawyer to study the law to see if there is a legal basis to bring an action against him,” he wrote.

“We would like to confirm that the Cambodian People’s Party will not provide an opportunity for anyone to insult the party any more. We must seek justice for ourselves through the courts,” he continued. 

On February 2, The Cambodia Daily Khmer published a story quoting Senkaruna, who allegedly said that Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay could not afford to pay $1 million damages. Senkaruna reportedly said politicians’ disputes should be resolved politically and not through the court’s settlement mechanism.

Senkaruna allegedly said the CPP is a “party with a lot of financial resources”, therefore the party should “tolerate Son Chhay”.

He was further quoted as saying that the ruling party has “always used the courts as a barrier to oppress its opposition political partners”.

Senkaruna allegedly said that political parties should use “mature ways to compete with each other”, and “stop the culture of threats against political members” to set an example for the next generation of politicians.

Senkaruna could not be reached for comment.

However, he posted a comment on his Facebook, stating that his views “do not serve political parties and that he had no intention to attack any political parties”. He said his comment was aimed at strengthening respect for human rights, law, social justice and democracy.

“[They] extracted my quotes to add on, to attack. [I] did not directly name any political party. It is not my intention and purpose [to insult], so I do not recognize [the article],” his post read.

Government lawyer Ky Tech declined to elaborate, adding that, “I would like to keep [this] confidential [which is within] the legal profession.”

Ruling CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said the party lawyers are working on the issue to determine whether his comment was “insulting or not” to the party.

“This is not a threat to freedom of expression,” he said, citing Article 41 of the constitution where freedom to express should not infringe upon the rights of others and their dignity.

“What he said and broadcast through foreign media or radio has affected the honor and dignity of the Cambodian People’s Party, which makes it necessary for the party to seek justice,” Eysan said.

He said CPP cannot tolerate insults and attacks by those who have violated the right to freedom of expression, which impacts other people’s rights. 

NGO rights group Licadho operation director Am Sam Ath said civil societies always support freedom of expression and constructive criticism.

“We are saddened that sometimes they [media] partially extract quotes or shorten them, which brings confusion,” he said.

He noticed that some media’s quotes can be confusing due to time constraints and word count challenges.

Sam Ath said Senkaruna who has been working on human rights for 20 years so far, always gives interviews and constructive views on human rights, environment, forest and land issues.

In February last year, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the lower court which found Candlelight Party vice president Son Chhay guilty for defamation for comments he allegedly made against the CPP. He was ordered to pay four billion riel ($1 million) in damages.

Son Chhay declined to comment and referred the questions to his lawyer Chuong Choungy. He has yet to see the court warrant to pay the CPP.

“I’m sorry freedom of expression is limited in our country, so I can’t talk much,” Choungy said, proceeding to cut the line.

NGO rights group Adhoc president Ny Sokha could not be reached for comment.

Update: This story was updated on February 5, 2024 at 6:40 p.m. ICT following a lawsuit filed by CPP lawyers with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.