Reaction around Phnom Penh to the verdict against deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh was mixed Thursday, with Cambodians on both sides sounding off.
Prince Ranariddh was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay $56 million. After a two-day trial, the Phnom Penh Military Court convicted the prince in absentia of conspiring with the outlawed Khmer Rouge to overthrow the government last July.
The court case was shown on Cambodian television Wednesday and the verdict was reported by all the Khmer newspapers. Cambodians interviewed around the capital had definite opinions as to the fairness of the trial.
“It was like watching a video from Hong Kong—lots of tricks and wrestling,” said Keo Thy, a man who pumps air into bicycle tires. “I think the trial was unfair. It’s a game.”
Others argued that the trial was legitimate and just but were unsure how it would contribute to a peaceful future.
“The state has laws. If Ranariddh is wrong, he has to be tried,” said Sam Phally, a moto taxi driver. “However, I do not want to see any fighting in my country. I am fed up with war. For national reconciliation, Ranariddh has to come back.”
Another moto driver, Yem Yorn, expressed strong belief in the country’s judicial system. “I think that the trial was fair because the legal state has to comply according to the law,” he said.
“They had enough witnesses to show his guilt. I don’t take sides with any political parties, I say what I have seen and heard.”
The country’s media viewed the trial along party lines. The opposition paper Samleng Yukveakchun (The Voice of Khmer Youth) called the trial “comical.”
Another opposition paper, Sereypheap Thmei (The New Liberty), wrote, “The Phnom Penh Military Court under political pressure from the July 5th and 6th coup staged a theater scene to try Prince Norodom Ranariddh.”
A cartoon in the pro-CPP paper Ar-rayakthoar (Civilization) showed Prince Ranariddh, sweat dripping down his face, on the defendant’s stand. The prince shouts, “Oh! Lord Buddha! I made a mistake!” Military Court Director and Presiding Judge Ney Thol responds, “You brought the illegal Khmer Rouge forces into Phnom Penh!”
The CPP-aligned Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) showed photographs of the prince accompanied by a caption reading, “Ranariddh is a leader with a mouth like a fish.”