Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy was found guilty Thursday of defaming a leading lawmaker in a trial the opposition leader told RFA was based more on “politics and corruption” than an impartial judicial review.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sam Rainsy of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin in a closed-door session that lasted less than an hour. Heng Samrin is also a senior leader in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
While Sam Rainsy did not attend the trial, Heng Samrin and his attorney Ky Tech did. Sam Rainsy was fined 10 million riels (U.S. $2,439) and ordered to pay Heng Samrin 150 million riels (U.S. $36,586) in compensation.
Speaking live on RFA’s Khmer Service call-in show on Thursday, Sam Rainsy said he is unconcerned by the decision, calling it is unjust “because the court decision in Cambodia is based on politics and corruption rather than based on law, judicial conduct and regulations.”
CNRP senior official Eng Chhay Eang also dismissed the verdict.
“Sam Rainsy did not hire any defense lawyers because he knew it is politics,” he said.
Heng Samrin sued Sam Rainsy for defamation over a video the CNRP president posted on Facebook in 2015 that shows former King Norodom Sihanouk giving a speech with the words: “We remember that the regime born on 7 January 1979 used their court [system] to sentence [late] King Norodom Sihanouk to death on the accusation of being a traitor.”
Heng Samrin was president of Cambodia from 1979 to 1992, leading a government installed following an invasion by Vietnam that ended the four-year rule of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime. Heng Samrin contended the Facebook statement negatively affected his reputation.
Norodom Sihanouk was King of Cambodia between 1941 and 1955 and from 1993 to 2004. He died in 2012 of a heart attack and was succeeded by his son, Norodom Sihamoni.
Sam Rainsy has been living abroad since he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2015 because of a warrant issued for his arrest in another defamation case in which he accused Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong of running a prison for the Khmer Rouge.
After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.
The verdict comes as political tensions between the CPP and the CNRP have grown worse in recent months as the government has sought to arrest Kem Sokha in an attempt to force him to appear in court in connection with an affair he is alleged to have had with a young hairdresser.
A National Election Committee member and four staffers with the rights group ADHOC, along with a U.N. worker, are facing bribery or accessory charges after being accused of attempting to keep the woman quiet about her alleged affair with Kem Sokha.
CNRP supporters and many civil society organizations contend the cases are politically motivated as the ruling CPP attempts to tighten its grip on power before the 2017 and 2018 elections. Although Hun Sen’s CPP has retained its three-decades-long hold on the government, the ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013.
The verdict also comes less than a month after popular government critic Kem Ley was murdered in an execution-style killing.
A Cambodian court charged a former soldier named Oeuth Ang with premeditated murder in the killing. While authorities have said that Kem Ley was killed over an outstanding $3,000 debt, few in Cambodia believe the story.
Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.