PHNOM Penh Municipal Court has ordered opposition leader Sam Rainsy to appear in court next Tuesday in connection with a two-year-old defamation and disinformation complaint filed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
The summons, issued on September 9 by investigating judge Duch Kimsorn, did not bear the name of a plaintiff, but ordered the Sam Rainsy Party president to appear for questioning in relation to comments he made about Hor Namhong in 2008.
“If he does not appear as scheduled above, we will issue a warrant for his arrest,” the summons said.
In June, a French court upheld a defamation conviction handed down against Sam Rainsy in response to a similar complaint from Hor Namhong.
The case stemmed from passages in Sam Rainsy’s autobiography, Rooted in Stone, that allegedly accuse the foreign minister of heading the notorious Khmer Rouge prison at Boeung Trabek.
Sam Rainsy has been ordered to pay a token one-euro fine for damages.
Hor Namhong filed a complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court after Sam Rainsy repeated the accusation during a speech at the Choeung Ek killing fields site on April 17, 2008.
Before the September 9 summons, the court had not acted on the case.
Sam Rainsy’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, declined to comment in detail on the case, but said he had not decided whether he would appear at the court next week. He said he was curious why the court had not begun processing the case until recently.
SRP secretary general Ke Sovannaroth, meanwhile, said the summons was likely politically motivated.
“It is a political issue, and they will not stop – they will continue this attempt to ban nationalists from gathering to defend the nation,” she said.
Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile in Europe, was sentenced to two years in jail in January after being convicted of uprooting demarcation posts on the Vietnamese border last year.
He also faces two other charges relating to maps he released while accusing Vietnam of territorial encroachment. The Municipal Court is expected to hand down its verdict in the latter case on Thursday.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the two-year delay in the case presented no legal problems, but that the political nature of the charges could have influenced the timing of the summons.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said a demand for symbolic restitution would constitute a suitable use of defamation laws.
But he expressed concern that the government was launching an all-out offensive against the SRP leader, using a barrage of state lawsuits to weaken his negotiating position in the event of a political settlement.
“I think the government is doing what it can to add on to its case against Sam Rainsy,” he said.
When contacted yesterday, Judge Duch Kimsorn declined to comment on the case. WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO