Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy in absentia to two years in prison on charges that he had defamed Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and had incited discrimination.
“This action really affected Hor Namhong’s fame and reputation and had a negative effect on public security. It made people discriminate against him and misunderstand him,” Judge Seng Neang said.
The case stems from a 2008 complaint by Mr Namhong in which he claims Mr Rainsy accused him of colluding with the Khmer Rouge at Phnom Penh’s former Boeng Trabek prison camp. During the trial, witness statements, which included those of Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo, and former S-21 prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, demonstrated that Mr Rainsy’s claims were inaccurate, said Judge Neang.
In addition to the two years’ imprisonment, Mr Rainsy was fined 8 million riel (approximately $2,000) and ordered to pay an additional 8 million riel in compensation. Judge Neang also ordered Mr Rainsy to publish three letters of apology in Rasmei Kampuchea Daily.
Mr Namhong’s lawyer, Kar Savuth, called the verdict “a justice” for his client. Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Mr Savuth claimed Mr Rainsy’s statements caused people both in Cambodia and abroad to hate Mr Namhong.
“Incitement leading to discrimination is a serious crime and has affected Mr Namhong’s reputation,” said Mr Savuth.
Mr Rainsy’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, did not attend court yesterday or during the trial. He said by telephone yesterday that his client was “not interested in the case because he did not believe that the court would give him justice.
“The only people who can sentence Mr Rainsy are the voters.”
Mr Choungy said he was unsure if Mr Rainsy would appeal and was waiting to discuss it with his client.
Mr Rainsy currently lives in Paris under self-imposed exile. In addition to the two-year sentence yesterday, he faces an additional 12 years in prison on convictions including incitement, disinformation and destruction of public property.