A court in Cambodia has summoned opposition leader Sam Rainsy to appear for questioning in connection with a new defamation charge after he posted a decades-old statement to his Facebook account last month.
The fresh case brings the total number of charges filed against the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief, who is currently traveling outside of the country, to three in less than three weeks.
Deputy prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Vong Bunvisoth issued a summons on Dec. 1 ordering Sam Rainsy to clarify a statement he posted to Facebook in November, according to a court document obtained Wednesday.
The summons was issued following a complaint by president of the National Assembly (parliament) Heng Samrin over the statement which read, “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—a senior member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—was president of Cambodia from 1979 to 1992, leading a government installed following an invasion by Vietnam which ended the four-year rule of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime.
Heng Samrin’s lawyer Ky Tech confirmed that he had filed a complaint against Sam Rainsy on Nov. 20 which said the Facebook statement posted three days earlier had negatively affected his client’s reputation because he had not handed King Norodom Sihanouk a death sentence.
“[The complaint was filed] because the accusation was made about the time that Heng Samrin was leading the country and … Sam Rainsy used the words, ‘the regime born on 7 January 1979,’” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
In response to the complaint, Sam Rainsy said he had never mentioned a specific name in the post, which also included a video clip of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk speaking out against Heng Samrin as he toured Australia in the early 1980s seeking support against the Vietnam-installed regime.
“Therefore, Mr. Heng Samrin has no ground to lodge any complaint against me because I just posted a video clip that has been circulating on the Internet/Youtube for more than 30 years,” he said in an email on Wednesday.
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.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann on Wednesday called the case “purely politically motivated” and condemned the CPP for settling its disputes through legal proceedings instead of seeking solutions with the opposition.
“They are the ones who bring forth the [issues] and they have influence on the court system,” he said.
“We [the CNRP] will seek other ways [to solve political tensions] through negotiation and use of diplomacy.”
Rather than respond to the new summons, the CNRP called on the court and relevant institutions to seek out and arrest the perpetrators of an Oct. 26 attack outside parliament which left two opposition lawmakers seriously injured.
While arrests were made in the incident, the CNRP maintains that the “masterminds” still roam free and on Monday, opposition lawmakers boycotted a morning meeting of the National Assembly, vowing not to return until their physical safety can be assured.
The CNRP has also dismissed two other cases pending against Sam Rainsy, who has delayed his return to Cambodia while visiting several nations in Asia and Europe, as politically motivated.
On Nov. 16, Sam Rainsy was forced from parliament by CPP lawmakers after a warrant was issued for his arrest in a seven-year-old defamation case, while CNRP vice president Kem Sokha was removed two weeks earlier from his post as first vice president of the National Assembly in a CPP-dominated vote from which his party abstained.
On Nov. 20, the court issued another summons for Sam Rainsy to appear on Friday for questioning over his alleged involvement in using a fake map to resolve a border dispute with Vietnam.
Tuesday’s summons followed an arrest warrant issued for Sam Rainsy’s Facebook manager, Sathya Sambath, who was accused of conspiring to falsify public documents, making use of false public documents and causing threats to social stability.
Kem Sokha, who returned to Cambodia Wednesday after meeting with Sam Rainsy in the Philippines over the weekend, refused to comment on the latest legal action against the CNRP leader.
Earlier this week, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said that recent moves by the CPP to oust senior CNRP figures from their posts in parliament, together with physical assaults launched against opposition lawmakers, have “contributed to a deteriorating political climate in Cambodia” and that prospects for a democratic future for the country are now at risk.
Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.