Opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s request to be questioned remotely by court officials in his latest defamation case cannot be allowed, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said on Sunday.
Mr. Rainsy, who is in self-imposed exile avoiding a two-year prison sentence for a 2011 conviction for defaming Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, was sued in November for allegedly defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin that same month via his Facebook page.
In another Facebook post on Saturday, Mr. Rainsy, who denies defaming Mr. Samrin, said he was willing to be questioned today as scheduled, but only via Skype from abroad.
“In order to save time and money, I am willing to meet and talk with any judge on Skype—a communication tool based on the Internet—which is consistent with the fact that I am accused of defaming Mr. Heng Samrin on the Internet as well,” the post said.
On Sunday, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin called the opposition leader’s request “impossible.”
“Based on legal principles, the Criminal Code, this is not allowed,” he said. “For all orders that are issued, like an order for questioning, the person who is called has to come in person to the court. The definition of an order in the Criminal Code clearly states that the person has to show up in front of the investigating judge. So his request may be impossible based on the law.”
If Mr. Rainsy does not show up in person, he added, the court would issue a warrant for his arrest.
Court officials could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Rainsy said in an email on Sunday that he had yet to receive an official reply to his request to answer the court’s questions over Skype.
But should it be officially denied, he said, “the public would want to know whether the court is really interested to hear my answers and get some possibly useful information, or they just want to arrest and detain my person, which they unfortunately cannot.”
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent attorney and legal rights advocate, said he knew of no case in which a Cambodian court has ever questioned someone via Skype. But there were no rules expressly banning it, either, he said, nor any insisting that a person must be questioned in person.
“No rules say like that,” he said. “It [does] not say anything about in the courtroom or not.”
Mr. Sam Oeun said there was little practical difference between what Mr. Rainsy was suggesting and the standing practice by the local courts to question witnesses —usually to protect their identities—via camera, whereby their testimony is broadcast by video into the trial chamber from another room.
“The Ministry of Justice accepts [witnesses to] testify in camera,” he said. “So it is similar like Skype, so I think it should be acceptable.”
Mr. Sam Oeun said the questioning of witnesses by live video feed at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which is technically a part of the Cambodian court system, could also serve a precedent for granting Mr. Rainsy’s request.
Mr. Samrin filed his complaint against Mr. Rainsy on November 17, accusing the opposition leader of defaming him in a recent Facebook post by claiming—falsely—that the government he headed in the 1980s had sentenced King Norodom Sihanouk to death.
In the offending post, Mr. Rainsy uploaded a video of Prince Sihanouk complaining in the early 1980s about the influx of Vietnamese nationals into Cambodia.
In a caption accompanying the video, Mr. Rainsy wrote: “We remember that the regime born on 7 January 1979 used their tribunal to sentence our late King H.M. Norodom Sihanouk to death by accusing him of being a traitor.”
Though Mr. Rainsy did not name Mr. Samrin in his post, Mr. Samrin’s lawyer says it still counted as a personal attack owing to his position as head of state at the time.