Former Adelaide schoolteacher Son Chhay ordered to pay $1.2 million for defaming Cambodian political party

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Former Adelaide school teacher Son Chhay has been found guilty of defamation in a Cambodian court and ordered to pay the ruling party the equivalent of $1.2 million for criticising local commune elections held in June.

The 66-year-old, who is vice-president of the Cambodian opposition Candlelight Party, appeared in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week after complaints were lodged by the National Election Commission (NEC) and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The municipal court said the charge was related to a comment by Son Chhay that recent commune council election results “do not reflect the will of the people, who were intimidated. Their votes were bought and stolen.”

CPP lawyer Ky Tech described those remarks as “fraudulent, misrepresented information, fake and ill-intended purpose to seriously damage the reputation of the CPP who won the election,” the semi-official Fresh News portal reported.

The CPP demanded the equivalent of $1.5 million in compensation.

Son Chhay, who was not in court on Friday, was also found guilty of defaming the NEC and ordered to pay about $3,350 in damages and another $6,616 in fines.

The Candlelight Party was forged out of the remnants of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) which was outlawed by the courts in 2017, enabling the CPP to win all 125 seats contested at national elections a year later.

Since then hundreds of CNRP supporters have been convicted and jailed, some in absentia, for incitement and treason.

Speaking outside the court last week, the dual Australian-Cambodian citizen asked judges to declare their political allegiances, claiming the charges were about politics and the next national election due in Cambodia in mid-2023.

“Political issues should be dealt with politically, not in the court,” Son Chhay said.


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