Cambodia’s opposition party will file an appeal on Aug. 1 of a court decision to convict its president Sam Rainsy on defamation charges, though it doubts that its action will result in a fair ruling, defense lawyer Sam Kokong said Friday.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday convicted Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin in a closed-door session that lasted less than an hour.
The court fined Sam Rainsy 10 million riels (U.S. $2,439) and ordered him to pay Heng Samrin, who is also a senior leader in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), 150 million riels (U.S. $36,586) in compensation.
Sam Rainsy, who has lived in exile since late 2015, did not attend the trial, but Heng Samrin and his attorney Ky Tech did attend.
“We will appeal because during the court process on July 28 Sam Rainsy and his defense lawyer were not present, and the court’s decision to punish him [Sam Rainsy] with fines is not appropriate per Article 305 of the criminal code,” Sam Kokong told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“In my mind, there is not likely any hope [of a fair decision],” he said. “But we as lawyers must do what we can in accordance with the law.”
RFA could not reach Ky Tech, defense lawyer for Heng Samrin, for comment.
After the court issued the verdict on Thursday, Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service that he was not concerned about the decision because the trial was based on “politics and corruption” rather than an impartial judicial review.
The politician 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 having run a prison for the Khmer Rouge regime.
The verdict comes as political tensions between the CPP and the CNRP have grown worse in recent months.
The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has sought to arrest acting CNRP president 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.
CNRP supporters and many civil society organizations argue that the cases are politically motivated as the CPP tries to tighten its grip on power before elections in 2017 and 2018.
Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.