The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has again charged opposition leader Sam Rainsy with defamation, following a complaint that he sullied National Assembly President Heng Samrin by claiming that the government he led in the 1980s had sentenced King Norodom Sihanouk to death.
“The court has charged [Mr. Rainsy] with defamation,” municipal court president Taing Sunlay said on Wednesday. “The case has already been sent to trial.”
Judge Sunlay said he could not remember when the charge was laid or the date of the hearing, however, and referred additional questions to the judge assigned to the case, Ros Piseth, who could not be reached.
Mr. Samrin’s lawyer, Ky Tech, said the trial would start within three months.
“The court laid the charge about two weeks ago, and the case has been scheduled for trial in June,” he said. “I have received the notice from the court but I can’t tell you the details.”
Mr. Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence for defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, did not reply to a request for comment.
CNRP lawmaker and spokesman Yim Sovann dismissed the charge.
“It is politically motivated; I’m not surprised,” he said. “In my opinion it has become a package of political issues.”
Mr. Rainsy already faces two years in jail for a 2011 conviction for defaming Mr. Namhong and a possible 17 more years over a video posted to his Facebook page in which an opposition senator presents a forged treaty claiming that Mr. Samrin’s regime agreed to dissolve the eastern border with Vietnam.
Hong Sok Hour, the senator, was arrested in August on charges of forging public documents and inciting chaos in society, with Mr. Rainsy charged over the video in November, after having already entered exile.
Mr. Samrin filed his defamation complaint in December in reaction to a Facebook post from Mr. Rainsy the month before in which the opposition leader claimed that the Vietnamese-backed regime that replaced the Khmer Rouge in 1979 had formed a tribunal that sentenced King Sihanouk to death for treason.
Though Mr. Rainsy did not name Mr. Samrin in the post, the Assembly president was the nominal head of the Cambodian government in the years after Pol Pot was toppled. In fact, Mr. Samrin’s regime never sentenced the king, who was then a prince, to death. Show trials set up by the regime sentenced to death only Pol Pot and his foreign minister, Ieng Sary.
The prince was sentenced to death in absentia for crimes including treason by the Lon Nol regime in 1970.