The legal woes of Sam Rainsy continued to mount yesterday as the self-exiled opposition leader was found guilty of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin in a Facebook post, a conviction that carried no jail time but a hefty fine.
In November, Rainsy, a prolific Facebook user, posted a video of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk along with a text message accusing the Samrin-led 1979 government of trying Sihanouk in absentia for treason and sentencing him to death in a show trial.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Ros Piseth took less than an hour to hear arguments from public prosecutor Vong Bunvisoth and Samrin’s lawyer Ky Tech before pronouncing Rainsy guilty of defamation under Article 305 of the Criminal Code.
“According to the evidence given by the complainant’s lawyer, there is consistency in that there was a case of defamation through a post on Facebook,” he said.Rainsy, who did not send a lawyer to represent him, was ordered to pay Samrin 150 million riel (about $37,200), as well as a separate 10 million riel fine to the state.
Choung Choungy, who has represented Rainsy in the past, said it had been Rainsy’s decision to not have legal representation for this case.
While yesterday’s conviction involves no jail time, Rainsy is already facing an arrest warrant for an outstanding two-year prison term stemming from a 2011 defamation conviction for asserting that Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong had run Khmer Rouge prison Boeung Trabek.
That case, believed by many to have been included in a broad royal pardon issued in 2013 ahead of his return to Cambodia, was resurrected in November.
During court proceedings, Tech said the only reason for Rainsy to post the video and text was to defame his client, adding that it was the text more than the video that was defamatory.
“So, the post made the public believe what he wrote,” he said. “He intended to say that King Sihanouk was sentenced for treason by Samdech Heng Samrin’s regime.”
He also took umbrage at the numerous comments on the Facebook post agreeing with Rainsy’s assertion, which he said led to a distortion of historical facts. “The youth who did not know the history now believe that there really was a trial [against Sihanouk],” he said.
“So, it strongly affects the reputation of Samdech Heng Samrin, who had the top position during that time.”
On hearing the verdict, Tech said he would need to consult with Samrin if he wanted to file an appeal demanding a heftier fine – the complaint originally asked for 300 million riel.
CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang was dismissive of the verdict yesterday, calling it “politically motivated”. “The court verdict is a political verdict,” he said. “It is normal in Cambodia, because no one trusts the courts.”
Political analyst Ou Virak said that while the government had the right to file defamation cases, they shouldn’t result in large fines or prison terms.
“If they really want to file a defamation case, they have the right,” he said. “But the courts should be credible and it should lead to only a symbolic result in order to clear the record.”