National Assembly President Heng Samrin has become the latest government official to accuse opposition leader Sam Rainsy of defamation, with a lawyer for the ex-president filing a complaint against Mr. Rainsy over false claims that the 1980s communist regime sentenced King Norodom Sihanouk to death.
Mr. Rainsy made the claim in a post to his Facebook page on November 17—a day after he failed to return to Cambodia as scheduled, and four days after a lawyer for Foreign Minister Hor Namhong requested that the opposition leader be arrested in line with an unenforced conviction from 2011 for defaming Mr. Namhong.
Since then, Mr. Rainsy, who is presently in self-imposed exile in Europe to avoid arrest, has also been summoned to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday for questioning over his alleged role in the forging of a diplomatic treaty with Vietnam.
Following the latest complaint from Mr. Samrin, deputy municipal prosecutor Vong Bunvisoth issued a summons on Wednesday for Mr. Rainsy to appear at the court again on January 4 for questioning about the November 17 Facebook post, which mentions Mr. Samrin in the video but not the text.
“I would like to clarify that the reason we decided to file a complaint is that…the words of the post are completely contrary to the facts, aiming to slander and damage the honor of Samdech Heng Samrin,” Mr. Samrin’s lawyer, Ky Tech, explained on Wednesday.
In the offending post, Mr. Rainsy uploaded a video of then-Prince Sihanouk, the father of Cambodia’s independence and the leader of the resistance to Mr. Samrin’s regime, complaining in the early 1980s about the influx of Vietnamese into Cambodia.
“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,” Mr. Rainsy wrote in the caption.
The video shows Prince Sihanouk protesting Mr. Samrin’s new communist regime, which was installed by the invading Vietnamese communists after they overthrew Pol Pot.
“The Yuon sent Yuon into Heng Samrin’s army, and the Yuon side tells the world that they could leave Cambodia in the next six years—or in the next 10 years at latest,” the prince says in the video, using a term for Vietnamese that can be considered derogatory.
“Why did the Yuon say this? They said this because they will use the seven, eight or nine or 10 years to add Yuon…adding more and more Yuon in [government] positions as Khmer,” the prince continues.
Mr. Tech said that even though Mr. Rainsy did not mention Mr. Samrin by name, he defamed him through his claims that the post-Khmer Rouge regime had sentenced Prince Sihanouk to death because Mr. Samrin was that regime’s president.
“Samdech Heng Samrin was the highest leader in Cambodia in the regime after January 7,” he said. “Such words are an exaggeration, making the nation and the rest of the world wrongly evaluate him and strongly damaging his honor as the leader of that regime.”
Mr. Samrin’s regime never sentenced Prince Sihanouk to death. Show trials set up by the regime only sentenced Pol Pot and his foreign minister, Ieng Sary, to death. After the monarchy was restored, King Sihanouk pardoned Ieng Sary of his sentence in September 1996.
In July 1970, the Lon Nol regime did sentence Prince Sihanouk in absentia to death for crimes including treason.
Mr. Samrin’s complaint, posted online by deputy CNRP public affairs director Kem Monovithya, was filed on November 20 and seeks compensation of 300 million riel (about $75,000) and the prosecution of Mr. Rainsy.
Mr. Rainsy already faces two years in jail for the 2011 conviction for defaming Mr. Namhong and a possible further 17 years for his role in a Facebook video in which an opposition senator presents a forged treaty claiming that Mr. Samrin’s regime agreed to dissolve the eastern border with Vietnam.
The opposition senator, Hong Sok Hour, is already in jail over the clip, while arrest warrants were also issued on Tuesday for two of Mr. Rainsy’s assistants for producing it. Both have reportedly fled to the Philippines to avoid arrest.
Mr. Samrin joins Mr. Namhong and former first prime minister and National Assembly president Prince Norodom Ranariddh as government officials to have sued Mr. Rainsy for defamation. Prince Ranariddh’s 2005 complaint led to Mr. Rainsy’s first extended period in self-imposed exile from 2005 to 2006.
A pardon issued for Mr. Rainsy allowed the opposition leader to return to Cambodia a free man and to proclaim the first attempted “culture of dialogue” with Mr. Hun Sen in February 2006. Yet he fled the country again in 2009 to avoid another criminal conviction and remained abroad until July 2013.
Mr. Rainsy said in an email on Wednesday that Mr. Samrin’s lawsuit was groundless.
“In my Facebook post dated 17 November 2015, I just referred to ‘the regime born on 7 January 1979,’ without mentioning any name in my comment. It was our late King Father H.M. Norodom Sihanouk who mentioned the name of Heng Samrin in his speech as recorded in the video that I posted,” he wrote.
“Therefore, Mr. Heng Samrin has no ground to lodge any complaint against me because I just posted a video clip that has been circulating on the Internet/Youtube for more than 30 years,” he added.
CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith said on Wednesday he believed that the latest defamation filing was part of a political campaign by the government.
“The CNRP thinks that the recent cases that have occurred are seemingly politically motivated and not a matter for the judicial system,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
Yet Mr. Tech, the lawyer for Mr. Samrin, said the case was merely a matter of libel.
“I am a legal expert, so we thoroughly looked at all the legal means and all articles…before making the decision to sue His Excellency Sam Rainsy,” Mr. Tech said. “This complaint was made based on the law.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)