Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Opposition Candlelight’s Secretary General Replaced Following Leaked Recordings

Lee Sothearayuth speaks during Candlelight Party’s youth training at Kandal province on February 23, 2023. (Lee Sothearayuth’s Facebook)
Lee Sothearayuth speaks during Candlelight Party’s youth training at Kandal province on February 23, 2023. (Lee Sothearayuth’s Facebook)

Allegations of infidelity precipitated the resignation of opposition Candlelight Party’s secretary general Lee Sothearayuth, who was suspended earlier this month after the release of leaked audio by government-aligned Fresh News, revealing his intimate conversations with an alleged mistress.

Fresh News described the conversations as “inappropriate” and “immoral.” 

Following the release of the recordings, Candlelight Party announced the suspension of Sothearayuth on April 12 and appointed Kong Monika as acting secretary general to lead and manage the party general secretariat.

Kong Monika declined to say whether the replacement was due to the alleged leaked audio.

“I do not think this [Sothearayuth’s issue] will affect the party, but instead we are working well together for the upcoming election,” he said, adding that Sothearayuth remains in the candidate list for the July election.

However, Monika said the leaked recordings were violations of the right to privacy.

“The privacy of the individual must be protected, and this is the violation of individual rights,” he said.

Sothearayuth had been Candlelight Party secretary general since November, 2021. He was a former deputy director of the US-based NGO National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Phnom Penh.

NDI was closed in August 2017 before CNRP was dissolved in November and authorities ordered the NGO’s foreign staff to leave the country.

Fresh News, whose owner has close ties to the CPP and ruling elites, published a leaked recording showing a man asking a married woman, asking for explicit photos and speaking in sexual innuendos. 

In one video, a man alleged to be Sothearayuth calls a married woman and makes a sexual innuendo, while in another recording he asks for explicit photographs. 

Reached by phone, Fresh News staff declined to explain the source for the leaked messages and referred questions to the company’s  CEO Lim Cheavutha.

“My boss knows,” said the Fresh News staffer, who declined to provide his name. “Please, contact my boss.”

Cheavutha did not respond to requests for comment.

Lee Sothearayuth declined to comment, referring to the party’s spokesman.

Candlelight Party spokesperson Kimsour phearith said the suspension of Sothearayuth from his duty was made upon his request and not due to leaked audio over sexual scandal.

“He [Sothearayuth] asked his duty to be suspended because he wants to have enough time to do grassroots campaigning in [ Kampong Speu province],” he said, adding the leaked audio released by the government-aligned media was politically motivated.

“It’s the strategy to discredit the opponent’s popularity, but I think it is not a new thing and this always happens when having national elections and people who love democracy understand this,” he said.

In 2016, leaked audio about an infidelity scandal surrounding opposition leader Kem Sokha was also disseminated across social media.

Political analyst Em Sovannara said that the leaked audio recordings of Sothearayuth constitutes defamation and was dismayed that attention about personal details were being given precedence to national policy issues in the election run-up.

“In Cambodia, people do not care about common issues, common national issues, for example, agriculture, rising gas prices, and border issues,” Sovannara said. “It reflects that the politicians are still low and do not value the overall problem.”