A French court ruled in favor of Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Tuesday in a libel lawsuit he filed against SRP President Sam Rainsy. The opposition leader said he would appeal the decision.
The Paris criminal court found Sam Rainsy and his French book editor Jean-Etienne Cohen-Seat guilty of public defamation because of a passage in Sam Rainsy’s autobiography “Rooted in Stone,” published in France last May, in which he accuses Hor Namhong of having collaborated with the Khmer Rouge and of being responsible for several deaths.
“It is the second time for [Hor Namhong] that the criminal court of France provided him justice,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Phnom Penh.
The minister won a similar defamation case in France in 1991 against Retired King Norodom Sihanouk.
“[Hor Namhong] also has two younger sisters who were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime, so he’s also a victim of the Khmer Rouge,” Koy Kuong added by telephone Wednesday.
If the judgment stands, Sam Rainsy and Cohen-Seat would each pay a $1,325 fine, and together pay close to $6,000 toward Hor Namhong’s legal bills and one euro ($1.30) in symbolic damages, according to a copy of the one-page verdict.
Neither side had received the complete reasoned decision Wednesday evening.
“I confirm that I am appealing,” Sam Rainsy said by telephone.
His lawyer, Robert Lemonnier, said by telephone from France that he had not yet filed the appeal because he is waiting for Cohen-Seat’s decision.
Sam Rainsy explained that the court had heard the testimony of Raoul Marc Jennar, a Belgian political scientist and expert on Duch’s defense team at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, who said only the top six officials in the regime had control over who lived and died during Democratic Kampuchea.
As proof, Jennar told the court that the Khmer Rouge tribunal was only prosecuting five people, Sam Rainsy said.
Noting that there is currently a disagreement between the tribunal’s two co-prosecutors over the naming of more regime suspects, Sam Rainsy said that it wasn’t correct to draw a line under that issue yet.
“It’s a debate that remains still open in Cambodia,” Sam Rainsy said.
“This debate mustn’t be closed in France before it is properly discussed in Cambodia,” he said.
“We must wait for the appeal, we must wait for Cassation [France’s highest appellate court], and I think that by then the Khmer Rouge tribunal will have advanced and we will have better determined responsibilities,” he added.
Jennar confirmed in an e-mail in December that he had testified and argued that Hor Namhong had no control over the destiny of detainees at the Boeng Trabek prison camp where, according to a memo written by Jennar, the foreign minister was sent in 1977 and presided over a committee of prisoners.