Photo courtesy of the Sam Rainsy Party
Above: A map produced by the Sam Rainsy Party allegedly showing illegal border posts placed inside Cambodian territory by the Vietnamese. Below: A google map of the disputed area.
EMBATTLED opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison yesterday on charges of disinformation and falsifying public documents, a ruling that critics described as a blow to democracy in Cambodia.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Ke Sakhan also ordered the Sam Rainsy Party president to pay 5 million riels (US$1,190) in fines and 60 million riels in compensation to the state, saying he had “seriously affected” the government’s reputation.
“The accused’s activity has affected the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam,” Ke Sakhan said.
Yesterday’s verdict marked the latest turn in a protracted legal wrangle complicated by the government’s relationship with its eastern neighbour and former political patron.
Sam Rainsy, who fled into exile last year and lives in Europe, was convicted in January by the Svay Rieng provincial court and sentenced to two years in prison in connection with a protest last October in which he uprooted several border markers in Svay Rieng’s Chantrea district.
In the aftermath of the conviction, he publicised evidence of alleged Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian territory in video press conferences and on the SRP’s website, drawing government ire and the new charges on which he was convicted yesterday.
Police maintained a heavy security presence outside the courtroom yesterday morning, though the hearing was sparsely attended, save for a few observers and local journalists.
In a statement yesterday from London, Sam Rainsy dismissed the latest charges against him as “totally baseless”.
“Today’s verdict from a kangaroo court reflects Phnom Penh’s subservience to Hanoi,” Sam Rainsy said.
“Today’s verdict ... reflects the Vietnamese government’s anger against, and worry about, me because I dared, as a Cambodian member of parliament, defend Cambodian farmers, who are my constituents, against continuous border encroachments by Vietnam.”
But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, urged Sam Rainsy to respect “the principle of rule of law”.
“We have to maintain rule of law in Cambodia,” Phay Siphan said.
“Who’s in the right position to say who’s wrong, who’s right? Only a judge in the court of law.”