Despite Legal Defense, Rainsy Connects Hun Sen, Kem Ley

Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy did little to help his lawyer, Sam Sokong, on Friday after a one-hour trial during which the attorney argued that his client had not explicitly blamed Prime Minister Hun Sen for the murder of political analyst Kem Ley.

Mr. Rainsy has stood by his accusation that Kem Ley’s murder was an “act of state-sponsored terrorism” since being hit with a defamation lawsuit by the prime minister in August. If there was any confusion about his claims, he explicitly named Mr. Hun Sen in an email defending them on Friday.

Mourners pay their respects to Kem Ley at Wat Chas pagoda in Phnom Penh in July. (Satoshi Takahashi)

“It’s my intimate conviction that the authorities (or Hun Sen government) were behind government critic Kem Ley’s assassination in broad daylight on July 10, 2016, and that they have been covering up the crime, following a well-known pattern,” Mr. Rainsy said in an email.

During the trial, Mr. Sokong argued that comments delivered in a radio interview and Facebook messages were not personal in nature, and therefore did not constitute defamation.

“There was no intentional incitement in which he points to a person or anyone in government,” he said in court.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana noted Mr. Rainsy’s appearance on Radio Free Asia in July, when he said the masterminds behind Kem Ley’s murder were “those people currently holding power in the country.”

“There are millions of Cambodians who listen to Radio Free Asia, so it will make them start to get angry with the government,” Mr. Sophana said. “That was intentional incitement from the defendant Sam Rainsy.”

A decision in the case, in which Mr. Hun Sen is seeking compensation of 100 riel, or about 2.5 cents, is due on March 30.

The government has shown great sensitivity to claims that it was involved in the killing of Kem Ley. It has sued opposition senator Thak Lany, who is now living abroad, and political commentator Kim Sok, who is in jail, over similar allegations.

Authorities also prevented a screening of the Al Jazeera documentary “Cambodia’s Deadly Politics,” which explores the murder and claims of state involvement, earlier this month in Phnom Penh, briefly detaining youth activists who organized it.

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