Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy has filed an appeal with Cambodia’s Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision finding him guilty of destroying border markings with Vietnam which he said was part of a government campaign of political persecution, according to his lawyer Wednesday.
Attorney Choung Chou Ngy said Sam Rainsy, 63, had decided to appeal because he found the verdict against him “unjust”.
Sam Rainsy is president of the National Rescue Party (NRP)—a united opposition coalition established to challenge Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in elections next year.
The government has warned that the opposition leader, currently living in self-imposed exile in Paris, could be imprisoned for up to 11 years on his return to Cambodia following the conviction on the border issue with Vietnam and for various other offenses.
In January 2010, a lower court in eastern Cambodia’s Svay Rieng province had sentenced the opposition leader to two years in prison and fined him 8 million riels (U.S. $2,000) in absentia for removing the temporary border markings in 2009. An appeals court upheld the decision in October 2010.
He filed a complaint with the Supreme Court in March of 2011, but the court has so far failed to investigate the matter.
“Sam Rainsy wants the Supreme Court to review his case because [the ruling] was unjust,” Choung Chou Ngy said of the new motion to appeal the 2010 verdict.
Sam Rainsy has vowed to return to Cambodia by the end of the year to help lead the opposition in an effort to unseat the prime minister in next year’s polls.
Last month, Cambodia’s government effectively refused Sam Rainsy’s requests to return home to pay his last respects to the country’s former king Norodom Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack in October, drawing protests from the dissident’s supporters at home.
On Wednesday, government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that Sam Rainsy could not expect any lenience on his sentence, despite appeals to reelected U.S. President Barack Obama to pressure Hun Sen on improving Cambodia’s rights record.
Last week, Sam Rainsy called on Obama to use his influence to end human rights abuses and ensure free and fair elections in Cambodia if he attends the East Asia Summit meeting to be hosted by the country on Nov. 18-20.
The plea followed a commentary published in The New York Times, in which the opposition leader urged the U.S. president not to attend the summit to avoid internationally legitimizing the rule of Hun Sen— the longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia.
Khieu Kanharith rejected suggestions that the U.S. would influence Cambodia into allowing Sam Rainsy to return ahead of the 2013 elections.
“U.S. President Barack Obama is not Hun Sen’s boss,” he said, adding that the government has never prevented Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia to face his sentence.
“I have the feeling Sam Rainsy thinks that Obama is Hun Sen’s boss.”
Last week, Council Minister Phay Siphan said the government will explain “Cambodia’s situation” to Obama during his visit—specifically focusing on Sam Rainsy’s case and adding that, according to the law, Sam Rainsy must serve his prison term.
He said that the Cambodian government has no “gift” for the reelected president “in terms of a Sam Rainsy return.”
Earlier this week, Cambodia’s National Election Committee, which oversees elections in the country, ruled in favor of a motion by Phnom Penh commune councilors to delete Sam Rainsy from voting lists, meaning he will be unable to stand as candidate or vote in 2013.
Reported by Den Ayuthya and Ke Soknorng for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.