Dozens of commune councilors and members of the opposition Candlelight Party face ongoing court cases — a situation they say is a form of political retaliation aimed at interfering with their daily work.
In all, 17 elected commune councilors along with 21 party members, activists, and officials in 19 provinces face ongoing court cases according to a list the party compiled for CamboJA. Some face complaints and charges even though their cases were resolved months ago by the National Election Committee.
On Monday, the Tbong Khmum provincial court prosecutor questioned commune councilor Sok Sreynoun over a defamation complaint filed by a Cambodian People’s Party representative related to her posting photos of 20,000-riel notes given out by the CPP during the commune council election campaign in May.
Sreynoun, 35, is serving as commune councilor in Preah Theat commune, O’raing-ov district. She noted that the complaint was already resolved by the provincial election committee, which required her to pay 5 million riels or about $1200 as a fine and made a public apology.
“I am wondering why there is compliance with the court because it is the same case, and I thought NEC had already resolved it,” she said.
She said that the prosecutor had questioned her over the purpose of posting on Facebook. The complaint came even though she had deleted a post less than a day later after receiving many critical comments.
She said after questioning, she was allowed to return home, though the prosecutor hasn’t said whether she would be charged or the case dropped.
“I think they are persecuting me as I am a second commune chief in the commune of [Candlelight Party], and I am now serving citizens,” Ms. Sreynoun said.
“When there is a court summons, it has disrupted my daily work, including breaking my spirit and intimidating me as well,” she said.
“I am really concerned because the accusation has already been resolved, and it happened during the election campaign,” she added. “I do not know what they will accuse me of in future.”
Sou Sovichea, Tboung Khmum provincial deputy prosecutor, declined to comment.
Ms. Sreynoun’s work has been made more difficult by roadblocks from her CPP counterparts. Though it has been two months since the Interior Ministry confirmed her position, the CPP commune chief hasn’t yet divided up the roles for the commune council.
“I go to work at the commune council office every day, but I don’t have any role that they have given,” she said.
“When I arrived at the commune office, I cleaned places that were dirty. I sit and smile when people come to seek public services and instruct them when they needed like making a birth certificate,” Ms. Sreynoun.
O’Raing O’v district’s Preah Theat commune chief, Try Pov, said he hadn’t failed to divide up duties and that there simply wasn’t much work to do in the commune. Because there’s little work to be done, he said he doubted the court case would impede her duties.
“It does not affect her daily work [court case] because it is not necessary to have everyone at the commune administrative,” he said.
“So, if she is busy with her court case, she can go through it, and she has permission,” Mr. Pov said.
In Koh Kong province, Candlelight Party member Pal Kep, second commune chief of Stung Veng commune, said he has been summonsed for questioning over a slew of allegations that he called politically motivated.
In May, government lawyers filed a lawsuit against him and other candidates alleging forgery of documents, causing the disturbance of social security, defamation, and campaigning in violation of election laws.
“It is a pressure as we have known, it was a political issue, but the court remains in its proceedings and it has made us unable to follow our will due to continuing the procedure of court,” said Mr. Kep.
“I am concerned because if there is a political tension, they [court officials] will continue to summon because this case might not end.”
Apart from commune councilors, some opposition party members are also being questioned at court.
Kem Monykosal, a former doctor in Pailin province who was removed from his post in the health department in March 2022, has been accused of defamation and incitement to cause disturbance to social security for commenting on inactive health officials during COVID-19. He was called for questioning twice, though was permitted to delay it both times.
Eng Sroy, Tboung Khum provincial Candlelight Party chief, faces four accusations over public defamation, defamation through media, malicious intent, and incitement.
In this year’s June commune elections, the CPP won 1,648 out of a total of the country’s 1,652 commune chief positions, with the Candlelight Party taking just four. The CPP won 74.3 percent, or 9376 out of the 11622 commune council seats.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for ruling CPP, said that the court cases against some commune councilors have nothing to do with their daily work.
“Don’t be confused even if incumbent commune councilors, including incumbent civil servants, whoever have position and ranks, if they have been involved with legal process, the court will follow it’s the law,” he said.
Mr. Eysan, said that the court is continuing its procedure and is not an obstacle for commune councilors who are carrying out their daily work at the commune.
“When the court has summoned, we would seek permission from the commune council chief, to verify at court and if there is no guilt, they can work as normal,” Mr. Eysan said.
However, Pa Chamroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said that court proceedings against members of commune officials will negatively impact the democratic process, including their ability to serve local people effectively.
“In fact, if the situation continues, it will affect the democratic process at the grassroot level, including a bad influence on the national election 2023,” Mr. Chanroeun said.
He noticed that some Candlelight Party members, especially elected commune councilors, face enormous political pressure and political intimidation as court cases proceed.
Korn Savang, an advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (Comfrel), echoes Mr. Chanroeun, and called on the court to drop all charges against those commune officials who were elected in recent local elections.
“I think the court would consider dropping all charges related to being politically motivated, because they are now working in communes and it will make them unable to carry out fully their duty,” he said.
He added that political issues should be resolved through political means rather than legal channels.
Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party, who faces charges of criminal defamation as well as a CPP lawsuit, said the lawsuits and court cases were aimed to impede their work.
“It will make them suffer, first related to their work as commune councilors, and when they have a lawsuit like this, they are very concerned about whether they will have to go to court or be arrested,” he said.
“One more thing that is difficult is their ability to be a representative for people. When they have problem themselves, people dare not to seek their support because they [citizens] are scared to be involved with them,” he said