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Lawsuits Eroding Democratic Progress: UN

Civil and criminal lawsuits against opposition figures and journalists are undermining Cambodia’s progress on democracy, the UN rights office in Phnom Penh has warned.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement Friday that a number of court cases against officials like Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua “seriously affect democracy.”

Hun Sen is pursuing a countersuit against Mu Sochua, whose charges against the premier, for allegedly degrading remarks during last year’s election campaign, have already been dismissed.

In pursuing the suit against Mu Sochua, Phnom Penh Municipal Court has requested that the National Assembly suspend her parliamentary immunity. The full Assembly, comprised of a wide majority of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, is expected to vote on the immunity question Monday.

“The taking away of, or threat of taking away of, parliamentarian immunity is a threat regarding the lawmaker and seriously affects democracy,” the rights office said.

The UN office highlighted six cases, five of which are under the aegis of Phnom Penh deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun.

For example, opposition lawmaker Ho Vann is facing a suit from military officials after he criticized certificates they were granted by Vietnamese authorities.

The editor of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper is facing a suit for defaming Council Minister Sok An.

Moeung Son, the head of a non-governmental agency, is being sued for publicly complaining that the Apsara Authority, with the permission of the government, is shining lights on the temples of Angkor Wat.

“In the context under which Cambodian court easily receives power from the executive institution, whether civil or penal complaints, those complaints are a serious threat to the development of democracy Cambodia has built over the last 16 years,” the rights office said.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment. Om Yentieng, head of the government’s human rights office, could not be reached.

“What [the UN office] mentioned is not really related to the truth,” said Cheam Yiep, a CPP National Assemblyman told VOA Khmer. “Democracy has much improved.”