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Khmer Rouge Victims Sue Opposition Lawmaker

Chum Mey, right, a former S-21 prison survivor, sits in a pickup truck before joining a rally demanding Kem Sokha, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), to apologize for allegedly saying that exhibits at a Khmer Rouge-era genocide museum in Phnom Penh were faked, in front of the party's office, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, June 9, 2013. Cambodia's main opposition party denounced the large demonstration in the capital Sunday, which they said was staged by supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate rivals ahead of July elections. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PHNOM PENH - Four former prisoners of the infamous Khmer Rouge prison Tuol Sleng have filed a lawsuit against senior opposition lawmaker, alleging defamation and accusing him of denying Khmer Rouge atrocities.

The four former prisoners, including outspoken survivor Chhum Mey, are suing Kem Sokha, vice president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, for $1,000, which they say they will use for a Buddhist ceremony for the victims of Tuol Sleng.

Critics say the lawsuit appears to be political.

“The goal of the complaint may be aimed at decreasing the popularity of the opposition,” said Hang Puthea, executive director for the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, a monitoring group.

Up to 16,000 people were tortured and sent to the executions from the prison, one of the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious detention centers.

In recent weeks, Kem Sokha has been accused of claims that atrocities at the prison were staged by Vietnamese forces after they ousted the Khmer Rouge from power.

A hastily passed law by the ruling party-dominated National Assembly earlier this month makes such statements a crime, though Kem Sokha has denied the accusations and said they have been made up to discredit the opposition ahead of the July 28 elections.

Chhum Mey and his supporters staged a demonstration on Sunday, demanding an apology from Kem Sokha, who has said he will not apologize for something he did not say.

Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponharith said the lawsuit was a worrying sign that “the election will be troubled with irregularities, and it will not proceed in a free and fair manner.”