An appellate court on Thursday upheld opposition party leader Sam Rainsy’s defamation conviction for claiming Prime Minister Hun Sen’s media team pumped up the Cambodian leader’s Facebook presence with fake supporters.
Appellate Court Judge Samrith Sophal agreed with the trial court in a hastily announced decision that was attended only by the government official who oversees Hun Sen’s Facebook page.
Neither Sam Rainsy, who is barred from entering the country, nor his attorney Som Sokong, was present for the decision.
“This decision was rendered in absentia, yet is regarded by the court as being rendered in the presence of the parties to the proceedings,” Som Sokong told RFA’s Khmer Service. “We are going to appeal this decision in due course.”
Som Soeun, who is the website administrator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in addition to being an official in the Ministry of Culture, said the court had delivered justice.
“As the CPP’s Facebook Working Group leader I am very satisfied with the decisions by the courts that found Sam Rainsy guilty of defaming me publicly,” he told RFA.
In November, Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia of defamation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court municipal court, and he was fined 10 million riel ($2,500) and ordered to pay Som Soeun 15 million riel ($3,750).
Sam Rainsy had accused Hun Sen’s media team of buying “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase the appearance of support for the prime minister.
Sam Rainsy told RFA’s Khmer Service during a live interview in November that it is Hun Sen who “should be liable for compensating the Cambodian people for all his lies and purchasing ‘likes’ for his Facebook [page].”
“American companies and Facebook can confirm that Hun Sen’s Facebook is full of fake ‘likes,’” he said. “He is again a coward for fabricating his popularity and asking his petty people to sue me in his stead.”
He went on to say that it was “hilarious” that Hun Sen’s Facebook page, which is available only in the Khmer language, had received almost a million likes from people in foreign countries such as India where Khmer is not spoken.
“How could about a million Indians know and support Hun Sen when they don’t even speak the language on his Facebook posts?” asked Sam Rainsy “So, the bottom line is millions of his likes have been purchased.”
Few from Cambodia
Reporters at The Phnom Penh Post in March analyzed the countries of origin for “likes” on Hun Sen’s Facebook page after he had surpassed 3 million fans and found that only 20 percent of them originated in Cambodia.
Their analysis showed that in the previous month more than half the “likes” were from abroad—mostly from India and the Philippines—calling into question their legitimacy.
Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest for a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008. He has been convicted in several court cases brought by members of the CPP.
In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to "use all ways and means" to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country, as Sam Rainsy has pledged to do before the country’s elections.
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.