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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In Cambodia, Sam Rainsy no worse for wear: legal officials

In Cambodia, Sam Rainsy no worse for wear: legal officials

PPenh legal minds say defamation ruling against Sam Rainsy will not reverberate locally; Hor Namhong waits for Cambodian case to progress.

ALTHOUGH the local fallout of a French court ruling Tuesday against opposition leader Sam Rainsy for disinformation and defamation has yet to materialise, Phnom Penh legal officials doubt the verdict will hold sway in a Cambodian court.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who sought to sue Sam Rainsy for defamation in both French and Cambodian courts, has yet to deliver any resounding words calling for further punishment of the opposition leader, but Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said his boss was waiting for local officials to "further their investigation".

Even though Sam Rainsy has lost for now, that accusation is still going around.

In his autobiography, Rooted in Stone, published in May last year, Sam Rainsy accused Hor Namhong of heading the Boeung Trabek "re-education" camp, where former diplomats and government officials from the Lon Nol and Sihanouk regimes were detained.
Hor Namhong had previously filed a lawsuit in Phnom Penh in April after the opposition leader alluded to the minister's involvement in the leadership of the Khmer Rouge in a speech at the Choeung Ek "killing fields". Hor Namhong shelved the case, however, awaiting the French verdict addressing the more explicit comment Sam Rainsy made in his book.

According to Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Chiv Keng, while the local case was ongoing, it would not be impacted by Tuesday's ruling, since that case "depended on facts from a different place".

For Sok Sam Ouen, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, more charges against the opposition leader would, in his opinion, effectively amount to double jeopardy, as the claim Hor Namhong objects to is the same.  

Sam Rainsy's lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said any local legal action would require his client first be stripped of political immunity by order of the National Assembly.

He also denied tremors from the French verdict would register in Phnom Penh since, he said, "there is no law allowing a Cambodian court to use an international decision to rule on a case".

Sam Rainsy, for his part, remains unrepentant, telling the Post he "has no regrets and would not change a word."

Accusation not debunked

While legal minds may see the opposition leader's local legal standing as no worse off, Chea Vannath, a commentator on domestic social and political affairs, described the verdict as a political victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party,  whose membership has been publicly linked to leadership roles in the Khmer Rouge.

She said, however, the charge against Hor Namhong had not been laid to rest.

"Even though Sam Rainsy has lost for now, that accusation is still going around," she said.  

She said she expected the ruling party would continue to address public remarks linking it to the brutality of the ultra-Maoist regime when expedient. 

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