The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday issued a warrant for the arrest of opposition leader Sam Rainsy over a long-pending defamation and incitement case brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008.
Mr. Namhong sued Mr. Rainsy over a speech he made at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in April that year in which he accused the foreign minister of colluding with the Khmer Rouge while imprisoned at the Boeng Trabek prison camp.
The municipal court in 2011 sentenced Mr. Rainsy to two years in prison and fined him $2,000; in 2013, Mr. Rainsy dropped an appeal against his conviction. According to a copy of the court warrant, Mr. Namhong’s lawyer, Kar Savuth, requested on Friday that the verdict be enforced.
“Thus it is decided: Firstly, to arrest…Sam Rainsy under the power of the final verdict of the Court of Appeal on March 12, 2013. Secondly, to order all public forces to search for and arrest and bring the convict, Sam Rainsy, to have his sentence implemented at the prison of the Ministry of Interior,” the warrant said.
Although Mr. Rainsy is currently out of the country, government spokesman Phay Siphan said he would be arrested upon his return, which the CNRP president previously said would be on Monday.
“Of course, according to the decision of the court, there will be an arrest,” he said.
As a lawmaker, Mr. Rainsy technically enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution, but Mr. Siphan said he did not think this would prove an impediment to the opposition leader’s arrest.
“The court decided [on this verdict] before he got immunity,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy could not be immediately reached for comment, but CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang confirmed that the party had seen the warrant. He questioned why, if the verdict was valid, it was not enforced when Mr. Rainsy first returned to Cambodia in 2013 after nearly four years in self-imposed exile.
“It’s nothing shocking or harmful, but it’s just a funny thing, because when we looked into the arrest warrant, it involves a case back in 2008, so why didn’t they arrest him when Sam Rainsy was getting out of the airplane? It’s funny, because it’s almost the end of the year 2015 and they have just now issued a warrant to arrest Sam Rainsy,” he said.
Mr. Chhay Eang added that it appeared that the CPP’s strategy was to force Mr. Rainsy back into exile and leave the opposition party without a leader in advance of the critical 2017 commune elections and 2018 national election.
“They want to show their power,” he said.
In a speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen reminded Mr. Rainsy that he still had a court case open against him for alleged property damage in 2014, and said he could face an additional lawsuit for defamation.
Although Mr. Hun Sen did not mention the Choeung Ek case, he warned: “You always create chaos, and I would like to clarify that your case [at court] is not yet finished…. Don’t forget that you and Kem Sokha and others are not free and clear yet. Don’t say I’m threatening.”
(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)