Opposition party president Sam Rainsy, who in October criticized Cambodian and Vietnamese officials on their efforts to mark the common border, will go on trial Jan 27 to face criminal charges of inciting racial discrimination and intentionally damaging property, according to court documents and officials.
A summons from the court’s prosecutor delivered to the lawmaker’s attorney on Friday stated that Mr Rainsy is due to appear before Svay Rieng Provincial Court at 8 am. The summons also names five villagers—Neang Phally, 39, Prak Chea, 28, Prak Koeun, 38, Meas Srey, 39, and Prum Chea, 41—who each face a charge of intentionally damaging property. The court has already arrested Ms Srey and Mr Chea, who remain in pretrial detention.
Choung Chou Ngy, Mr Rainsy’s attorney, said it was unclear if the SRP president, who is now abroad, would return for the trial.
“I will go and join the trial on behalf of my client. I do not know if he is coming or not,” he said yesterday. “But I will go and I do not care if my client is going to the court or not.”
When asked about his chances of winning the case, Mr Chou Ngy replied, “The public already knows the answer.”
Mr Rainsy has stated in the past that he would not return to Cambodia until the government releases all prisoners being held for protesting evictions and surrenders the disputed property. Yesterday, he reiterated his position.
“I will return and appear for my trial if the authorities declare that the farmers are innocent and give back their rice fields. I want to remind them that I take full and sole responsibility for the uprooting of the alleged border demarcation stakes,” he said via an Internet instant messaging service.
Prosecutor Keo Sothea would only confirm the trial date and stated it was not his duty to give information to a reporter. Court director Korm Chhan, who is to hear the upcoming trial, could not be reached.
The charges faced by the six individuals stem from an Oct 25 visit to Chantrea district’s Samraong commune in Svay Rieng province by Mr Rainsy during which six demarcation posts were pulled out of the ground in a rice field farmed by Ms Srey.
At the event, Mr Rainsy also criticized both Vietnamese and Cambodian officials for their handling of the border’s demarcation following villagers’ accusations of encroachment by Vietnam.
Under the Untac penal code, damaging property can carry a prison sentence of one to three years, or under a year if the damage is minor. Incitement to discrimination carries a prison term of one month to one year, a fine, or both.
SRP spokesman and lawmaker Yim Sovann said the six defendants will stand trial together and added Mr Rainsy is currently collecting documents and maps of the borderline in Chantrea district “to prove that what he did is nothing wrong” but added, “We expect the result of court will follow that of the ruling party.”
He said he did not know if Mr Rainsy would appeal if found guilty.
Besides imprisonment, Mr Rainsy also faces the possibility of losing his position in Parliament.
“When in jail or convicted, you lost your membership to Parliament,” said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
He said he expected Mr Rainsy to continue seeking a royal pardon for his legal troubles as well as work to build up international public opinion on his side.
“He’s had experience like this before,” he said referring to December 2005, when Mr Rainsy was tried in absentia for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh, then president of Funcinpec and the National Assembly. “So he tries to work for a political solution with the international community.”
After a year of self-imposed exile, Mr Rainsy was pardoned in February 2006 by King Norodom Sihamoni at Mr Hun Sen’s request after Mr Rainsy apologized to Mr Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh.