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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defamation suit drags on

Defamation suit drags on

Hor Namhong contests statements by Sam Rainsy linking him to the Khmer Rouge detention center at Boeung Trabek in a French court last week

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Sam Rainsy, left, and Hor Namhong are set to face off in court over claims Raisy made in his autobiography.

A FRENCH court last week heard arguments in a case filed by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong accusing opposition leader Sam Rainsy of defamation and disinformation.

In his autobiography, Rooted in Stone, published in May, Sam Rainsy accuses 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, some on their way to gruesome deaths at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

"[T]he Foreign Affairs Minister could be a former collaborator of the Khmer Rouge regime suspected of having caused the death of many people, including members of the royal family," he wrote.

The court is scheduled to decide the case on January 27. Officials from neither side were available to comment on the court proceedings or the exact terms of the case.

Hor Namhong has enlisted as a legal precedent a 1991 defamation ruling by a French court against former king Norodom Sihanouk.

In 1989, Sihanouk was quoted in a French newspaper as saying: "Mr Hun Sen's team is made up of former arch-criminal Khmer Rouge officials. For instance, Hor Namhong, ex-commander of a Khmer Rouge concentration camp, is responsible for the death, after atrocious torture, of many former members of the anti-American resistance...."  

Hor Namhong instead insists that he himself is a victim of the regime, having lost family members under its rule.

Nuance not the same  

According to officials in his party, Sam Rainsy has distinguished his comments from those of the former king and argued that the legal precedent therefore does not apply.

Hor Namhong first filed the lawsuit in April at a court in Phnom Penh after the opposition leader alluded to Hor Namhong's involvement in the leadership of the Khmer Rouge in a speech at the Choeung Ek "killing fields", during a ceremony to mark the regime's seizure of power and to commemorate those who died under its rule.

Hor Namhong that month also filed a defamation suit against a pro-opposition journalist who had reported on Sam Rainsy's comments. 

In May, a Phnom Penh court summoned Sam Rainsy to appear, but later shelved the case, awaiting the verdict from the French court case, which revolves around the more explicit comments Sam Rainsy made in his book.

Defamation and disinformation are misdemeanor offenses in Cambodia, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of six months and the possibility of a fine, according to Sok Sam Ouen, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.  

Hor Namhong told reporters in June that he filed the case in France, where Sam Rainsy holds a passport and where his book was published, because: "Some people claim the Cambodian courts are not independent, so I am taking legal action in France".

Hor Namhong has been linked to Boeung Trabek in past media reports, including a 2001 interview published by the Post in which Keo Bunthouk, then a Funcinpec senator, alleged Hor Namhong had been the "director" of the re-education camp. 

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