Cambodia opposition figure loses $1 million appeal to Supreme Court

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of a senior opposition party leader in a defamation case brought by election officials and the ruling party.

Son Chhay, vice president of the Candlelight Party, has been ordered to pay more than U.S.$1 million to the Cambodian People’s Party and the National Election Commission. The case stems from comments he made last year following local commune elections, which he said was marred by irregularities.

Son Chhay was not present at the announcement of the verdict by Chiv Keng, deputy president of the Supreme Court and the presiding judge. Several diplomats attended, as did Son Chhay’s lawyer.

“To make it easy to understand, we are living in this country (and) they are using the law against us,” Candlelight Party Spokesman Kim Sour Phirith said. “We have no choice … but we are not satisfied.”

Thursday’s verdict will cause concern among members of the opposition parties and could have an impact on the upcoming general election, scheduled for July, said Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Son Chhay's comments about last year’s election weren’t defamation, he added.

"I don't think Son Chhay intended to defame the CPP. The court already convicted him so the compensation should be forgiven," he said.

Intimidation and no monitoring

The Candlelight Party, Cambodia’s main opposition party, won only 19% of the contested seats in local communes in the June 5, 2022, elections.

Candlelight Party candidates and election observers said they were the victims of harassment and intimidation before and during the voting. Nearly all polling stations across the country were closed and locked after 3 p.m., and officials prevented observers from monitoring the counting of votes at polling stations, they said.

The party has said the abuses amounted to vote-rigging.

Son Chhay was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in October. The court awarded $750,000 and ordered that his properties in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap province be frozen in case he doesn’t pay the damages.

An Appeals Court upheld the conviction in December and ordered Son Chhay to pay $300,000 to the CPP, in addition to the lower court’s award.

“Three courts made the same decisions which have given justice to the ruling party, the CPP and NEC,” CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told Radio Free Asia. “We are satisfied with the court.”

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