The Appeal Court on Friday upheld a 20-month sentence against former CNRP President Sam Rainsy over his claim that the ruling party orchestrated last year’s murder of political analyst Kem Ley.
The verdict on defamation and incitement charges moved forward despite the absence of both Mr. Rainsy—who is in self-imposed exile—and his lawyer.
“The court cannot wait or delay the hearing,” Presiding Judge Nhoung Thol said, citing a Code of Criminal Procedure article that allows for a verdict in absentia.
In March, Mr. Rainsy was given the 20-month sentence and a fine of 10 million riel, or about $2,500, in addition to a symbolic request from Prime Minister Hun Sen for compensation of 100 riel, or about $0.02.
The case stems from a repeated claim by Mr. Rainsy that Kem Ley’s point-blank shooting in a Caltex gas station in July last year was “an act of state-sponsored terrorism.”
Judge Thol ordered that a video clip of a Radio Free Asia interview in which Mr. Rainsy made the claim be shown in court. Hun Sim Hak, an Interior Ministry official, confirmed it was Mr. Rainsy.
According to Mr. Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, this confirmation incriminated Mr. Rainsy for having “exaggerated to the Cambodian people.”
Contacted later on Friday, Mr. Rainsy’s lawyer Sam Sokong said the judge had acted illegally by ruling on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentence without him and his client present, as Mr. Rainsy had never received a court summons.
However, Mr. Rainsy said that he and his lawyer had received a summons and decided that attending the hearing was futile.
“With this Kangaroo Court, the verdict was a foregone conclusion,” he said in an email. “I maintain that the Hun Sen government was behind Kem Ley’s murder.”
In a separate case last week, the Appeal Court moved ahead with opposition Senator Thak Lany’s appeal against her November conviction for defamation and incitement, announcing it would hand down its decision on August 29, despite a request for a delay by her lawyer, Mr. Sokong.
Ms. Lany allegedly accused Mr. Hun Sen of ordering Kem Ley’s assassination and fled to Sweden after the prime minister filed a suit against her.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Presiding Judge Nhoung Thol cited a Criminal Code article that allows for a verdict in absentia.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)