On Monday, a court in Paris ruled against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in a defamation case he brought against his erstwhile political rival, the exiled Sam Rainsy, whose Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was forcibly dissolved five years ago on spurious accusations of plotting a U.S.-backed coup. Hun Sen and Dy Vichea, his son-in-law and deputy national police chief, had filed complaints against Rainsy (who lives in exile in France) over Facebook posts dating back to 2019, in which the opposition figure alleged the prime minister was behind the helicopter crash in 2008 that killed national police chief Hok Lundy, Dy Vichea’s father. He also accused Hun Sen of being connected to the death of prominent trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.
The question in all of this is why Hun Sen took the case to a French court. Sam Rainsy, after all, has been convicted on countless charges of defamation by Cambodian courts. In fact, in December 2021, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Rainsy in absentia of defamation for “falsifying information” regarding the death of Hok Lundy. His combined charges, which include other trumped-up criminal charges, would see him jailed for life if he ever returned to Cambodia, which Hun Sen has prevented him from doing since 2019. On Tuesday, Hun Sen said that Rainsy would never be allowed to return.
But in his 38 years as prime minister, Hun Sen has never brought a legal dispute to a foreign court. In the early 2000s, he and his wife, Bun Rany, threatened to sue a French newspaper after it alleged that they played a role in the murder of Piseth Pilika, who was alleged to be Hun Sen’s mistress. (Rumors surfaced earlier this year that they may do so after another French newspaper repeated these accusations, although your columnist cannot confirm anything on that.)