THE lawyer for embattled opposition leader Sam Rainsy plans to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court today to rebut allegations made by government officials concerning his client’s statements on demarcation efforts along the Vietnam border, which are at the heart of charges that could fetch him an 18-year prison sentence.
The court last month charged the president of the Sam Rainsy Party with falsifying public documents and spreading disinformation after he staged several press conferences during which he accused government officials of turning a blind eye to border encroachment on the part of the Vietnamese.
Sam Rainsy, who did not appear when summoned by the court before the charges were formally brought, has been asked to appear for questioning today, but he remains in self-imposed exile.
His lawyer, Choung Choungy, said Monday that he would appear on his client’s behalf.
“In case Excellency Sam Rainsy is not present, I will go to complete my obligation as a lawyer to defend his rights,” he said. “And I will make an argument to the court to defend his rights legally.”
He said he would also ask the court to form a committee including lawyers from both sides to investigate Sam Rainsy’s claims concerning specific border posts.
“If the court would not do so, it means that the court’s process would not be correct,” he said.
On Sunday evening, Sam Rainsy issued a public statement detailing the arguments Chou Choungy would present, which he said countered accusations lodged against him by a committee headed by Var Kimhong, the country’s chief border negotiator.
Among them is the accusation that Sam Rainsy “has produced a new map on which he has determined the locations of border posts which are different from the locations of border posts” determined by Var Kimhong’s committee.
The “clarification” to be presented by Chou Choungy states instead that Sam Rainsy has relied on pre-existing maps in making his public criticisms of the government’s demarcation work.
When it issued the most recent summons earlier this month, the court warned that Sam Rainsy could face an arrest warrant if he failed to appear.
On Monday, however, investigating judge Oeung Sieng declined to comment on the likelihood that a warrant would be issued, saying only that the case was still being investigated.
Government lawyer Ky Tech declined to comment on Monday beyond saying that he had already presented his case to the court.
Tith Sothea, a member of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers, said in response to Sam Rainsy’s latest statement that all documents and maps presented by the opposition leader were “not for official use”.
“Sam Rainsy is not a border expert,” he said. “His case is being processed by the court, and if Sam Rainsy is a brave politician he will dare to face the law and bring all documents and evidence to the court.”
Svay Rieng provincial court in January sentenced Sam Rainsy to two years in prison for charges stemming from an October stunt in which he helped villagers uproot border posts in Chantrea district.