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Court delays ruling in Sam Rainsy defamation case

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Social media star Thy Sovantha, seen speaking outside the Phnom Penh court, won a defamation case against former opposition leader Sam Rainsy last year. Hong Menea

Court delays ruling in Sam Rainsy defamation case

The Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed its ruling in the Sam Rainsy defamation case in which the newly nominated Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) acting president was ordered to pay Prime Minister Hun Sen four billion riel (around $1 million) in compensation.

The case centred on accusations Rainsy made in France while meeting supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP. He alleged that Prime Minister Hun Sen had given social media celebrity Thy Sovantha a $1 million bribe using money gained through corruption to attack the CNRP.

Sovantha was a former CNRP supporter who later joined the ruling party Cambodian People’s Party before commune elections last year.

Neither party was present in court, but the Supreme Court judges decided to proceed with the hearing and ruled that as it was only a misdemeanour charge, the absence of the accused would not affect the trial procedure. The hearing then lasted less than 10 minutes.

During the meeting in France in January last year, Rainsy claimed: “Hun Sen bribes Thy Sovantha $1 million . . . He bribed her to do bad things, to attack and cause trouble for the CNRP . . . to hold protests.

The accusation stemmed from messages allegedly leaked from Sovantha’s Facebook account between her and Hun Sen in November last year. The messages purportedly dealt with undermining the CNRP, with the prime minister calling Sovantha “grandchild” and offering her $1 million.

Thy Sovantha claimed her page was hacked and the messages fabricated.

In December last year, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Rainsy guilty of defamation and ordered him to pay Hun Sen four billion riel, with a further fine of 10 million riel (around $2,400).

Prosecutor Uk Kimsith requested the Supreme Court judges to uphold the decision of the lower court.

“The prosecutor sees that the lawyer for the accused received an invitation letter but did not submit documents [outlining an] argument."

“The fact that Sam Rainsy accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of bribing Thy Sovantha with $1 million using money from corruption is defamation according to Article 305 [of the Criminal Code]."

“Therefore, I would like the judges to uphold the lower court’s decision and regard it as correct,” Kimsith said.

Presiding Judge Kim Sathavy delayed handing down a verdict in the case until December 19.

Rainsy’s defence lawyer Sam Sokong could not be reached for comment.

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