A lawyer for Sam Rainsy on Friday challenged charges that the exiled former opposition leader had accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of ordering the murder of political analyst Kem Ley, claiming during his one-day trial on an incitement charge that is was unclear that he was referring to the premier.
But after Friday’s hearing, Mr. Rainsy stood by his previous claims that the government was responsible for the outspoken critic’s slaying.
“It’s my intimate conviction that the authorities (or Hun Sen government) were behind government critic Kem Ley’s assassination in broad daylight on July 10, 2016, and that they have been covering up the crime, following a well-known pattern,” Mr. Rainsy said in an email.
“I have reasons to believe so. Over 100,000 people share my belief when they “liked” my Facebook post expressing this belief.”
The prime minister had sued Mr. Rainsy, who is exiled in Paris to avoid jail time over a slew of cases widely thought to be politically motivated, for an August Facebook post in which he labeled Kem Ley’s shooting weeks earlier as “another act of state terrorism.”
Mr. Hun Sen is seeking compensation of 100 riel, or about 2.5 cents.
At Friday’s hearing, Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna also cited an interview Mr. Rainsy gave to Radio Free Asia in July, in which he stated that the mastermind behind Kem Ley’s murder was “those people currently holding power in the country.”
“There are millions of Cambodians who listen to Radio Free Asia, so it will make them start to get angry with the government,” Mr. Sophanna said. “That was intentional incitement from the defendant Sam Rainsy.”
Sam Sokong, Mr. Rainsy’s lawyer, responded that there was no evidence in the radio interview that any specific person was being singled out for ordering the slaying.
“There was no intentional incitement in which he points to a person or anyone in government,” he said.
Switching to the Facebook post, Mr. Sokong told Presiding Judge Y Thavareak to search the comments section to observe whether his client’s comments had incited any users against the government.
“We should consider the comments from Facebook users,” he said. “My client did not focus on anyone.”
Mr. Sophanna then pointed out that it was impossible to analyze the responses from netizens due to the post since being deleted.
Despite his lawyer’s effort to distance Mr. Rainsy from directly accusing the government of involvement, the prime minister’s long-time adversary has continued to voice the popularly held view that the murder was politically motivated.
“This is an act of state terrorism. Only the state has the means to perpetrate such an act and to cover it up,” Mr. Rainsy recently told Al Jazeera in the documentary “Cambodia’s Deadly Politics,” a screening of which was shut down by authorities in Phnom Penh last weekend.
The verdict is due on March 30.
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