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Cambodia’s ruling party claims a leading rights activist defamed it and seeks $500,000 in damages

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Lawyers for Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party filed a lawsuit Monday at the order of the party’s leader, former Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing a leading rights activist of defamation and seeking damages of half a million dollars.

The complaint was filed in Phnom Penh Municipal Court against Soeng Sen Karuna, deputy chief of Cambodia’s biggest rights group, ADHOC. The lawsuit asserts that remarks by Soeng Sen Karuna caused dishonor to the ruling party. The court is expected to determine which law would be applicable for the complaint.

There have been previous cases in which political opponents of the ruling party have been ordered to pay punitive damages after being found guilty of defamation.

The complaint, according to a copy seen by The Associated Press, referred to comments Soeng Sen Karuna made in a recent interview in which he allegedly said that the Cambodian People’s Party used the country’s courts as a tool to thwart or intimidate its political opponents.

The lawsuit alleges that the remarks were exaggerated and dishonest and could cause the public to hate the ruling party ahead of Senate elections this month.

The interview was posted online by The Cambodia Daily, a U.S.-based news website that evolved from a newspaper of the same name that stopped publishing in Cambodia in 2017 due to a tax dispute with the government then led by Hun Sen.

In a response to the lawsuit, Soeng Sen Karuna said his interview was in support of strengthening social justice and democracy without serving the goals of any political party. He said he had no intention to attack any individual or political party, and that anyone who claimed he was attacking a specific party was misconstruing his words.