Already facing two years jail for previous convictions, self-exiled opposition SRP leader Sam Rainsy’s jail sentence could be extended to 20-years today if Phnom Penh Municipal Court finds him guilty of forgery and disinformation charges.
Mr Rainsy was tried in absentia earlier this month over a government complaint that he forged public documents and spread disinformation by publishing documents on the Internet to bolster his claim that Vietnam was encroaching on Cambodian territory in Svay Rieng province.
By law, if found guilty of both charges, Mr Rainsy could face up to 18 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million riel (about $2,500).
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that he would not be surprised if the court found his party leader guilty and sentenced him to years in prison.
“We know that this is a political issue and we will not be surprised if there is a verdict against Sam Rainsy,” he said, adding that the issue should be solved through political means, not through the courts.
Mr Sovann added that the SRP had not encouraged people to listen to the verdict today, because the announcement was only likely to show how the ruling CPP used the court to weaken the opposition.
Municipal police chief Touch Naruth said yesterday that authorities were bracing for today’s announcement of the verdict, which is expected to be attended by a crowd of SRP supporters.
“It is the court’s procedure to allow the participants to attend the court to hear the verdict,” he said. “We will be deploying police outside the court to maintain security and public order. We will prevent any incident if protesters plan to interfere with public order during the announcement of the verdict.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said yesterday that he did not know how the judges were going to rule on the case, while Mr Rainsy’s lawyer Choung Choungy said he would not comment on the case until after the verdict was read.
Mr Choungy maintained, however, that there was insufficient evidence proffered by the prosecution at the Sept 8 trial to prove his client was guilty of the government’s allegations.
Mr Rainsy is already facing a two-years jail sentence after being convicted in January on charges of damaging public property and racial incitement, after he led a group of Svay Rieng province villagers in uprooting six temporary border demarcation posts during a protest.
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said yesterday that another guilty conviction handed down against Mr Rainsy would further weaken Cambodia’s credibility as a democracy.
“If the opposition party can not participate freely, it has a very bad effect on the credibility of Cambodia’s democracy,” he said, adding that politicians from all parties should stop using the courts as a way of solving their political differences with each other.
(Additional reporting by Mark Worley)