The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 28 charged former opposition leader Sam Rainsy with insulting the King under Article 437 of the Criminal Code.

Rainsy – the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – faces between one and five years in prison and a fine of between two and 10 million riel ($500 and $2,500) if found guilty, according to court spokesman Kuch Kimlong.

Kimlong said Rainsy posted a message on Facebook on December 20 wherein he flagrantly insulted King Norodom Sihamoni.

He added that municipal court deputy prosecutor Seng Heang decided to charge Rainsy with insulting the King following an investigation into the matter.

On December 25, Minister of Justice Koeut Rith issued a letter to municipal court prosecutor Chreng Khmao, instructing him to take urgent and serious action against Rainsy for the crime of insulting the King.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the charge against Rainsy meets the definition of a flagrant crime under the Criminal Code.

“The charge is in agreement with the facts of the case and the application of the law. If we consider the potential punishment Sam Rainsy would be facing along with his current age, we can’t say for sure whether he’d complete the sentence or how many years he’d serve. At his age, he may never make it out,” said Phea.

Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath said on December 28 that Rainsy may have insulted the King out of frustration over not being able to return to Cambodia.

“I think Sam Rainsy maybe thinks that he will never be able to return to Cambodia, so he finally decided “whatever” basically and he doesn’t care what happens,” he said.

Chanrath added that Rainsy had “dared to insult [the king] fully understanding that it was against the law and maybe it meant that he had already decided he couldn’t ever return.”

“I think that if they want to negotiate a political solution, then each politician should engage in behaviour that is consistent with that goal [instead of engaging in conflict]. Political disagreements are inevitable in any country,” Chanrath added.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Cambodian politicians should deal with the issues and not engage in “personality assassination”.

“Despite my opposition to the ‘lese majeste law’, and despite my public appeal to the King not to sign off on that law, and despite my having great admiration for Sam Rainsy – I cannot condone name calling addressed to our King, not by him or by anybody else.

“A sensible person would not oppose the present legal action against Sam Rainsy for it,” he said.