The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday ordered a freeze placed on the former headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in Phnom Penh, warning that the property may be sold to pay fines and compensation incurred by its owner, former party President Sam Rainsy, in two politically tinged defamation convictions.
The order relates to separate defamation cases filed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Prime Minister Hun Sen against Rainsy, with fines and damages in the two cases totalling around $1,062,500.
“First, temporarily confiscate the properties of the debtor Sam Rainsy, such as immovable property with land certificate located in Chak Angre Leu commune, Meanchey district, Phnom Penh and wait for the court to decide on the case,” the warrant reads, referring to the plot housing the party’s former headquarters and Rainsy’s former residence.
The injunction adds that the land will be returned if Rainsy – who has been living in self-imposed exile for years to avoid a multitude of court convictions – clears his penalties.
The premises were used as recently as Monday, when the Candlelight Party – the rebranded remnants of Rainsy’s eponymous former party – held a congress there, though party member Seng Marady said the meeting was not linked to the injunction.
Rainsy last night said he was not surprised by the court’s order given the political nature of the charges, calling it an act of “Hun Sen’s puppet court”.
He maintained that he had no interest in material possessions and had not indulged in corruption during his tenure as an opposition official.
“Therefore, I do not care about the puppet court of Hun Sen and his party’s confiscating my property, because such actions do not affect my livelihood and the spirit of my struggle,” he said in an email.
Rainsy was forced out of the CNRP by hastily drafted amendments to the Law on Political Parties rammed through parliament by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. In response to the forced dissolution of the CNRP last year and the arrest of Rainsy’s successor, Kem Sokha, Rainsy formed the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, ostensibly to call for protests from abroad, though he has yet to do so.
It was the issuance of an arrest warrant in a long-dormant defamation conviction related to former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong that initially prompted Rainsy to re-enter self-imposed exile in 2015. Since then, the government and the premier have frequently slapped Rainsy with court cases for his comments on social media – many of which have resulted in convictions in absentia, and most of which have been condemned by observers as politically motivated.
Samrin’s case relates to a Facebook video on Rainsy’s account alleging that the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk accused the Samrin-led 1979 government of sentencing the King Father to death in absentia in a post-Khmer Rouge show trial.
Authoritative historical evidence that the purported trial took place has proven difficult to locate, and Rainsy was ordered to pay Samrin around $37,200 and around $2,400 to the state at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
This fine was later upped to around $62,500 at the Appeal Court and upheld by the Supreme Court as well.
The other conviction stemmed from accusations by Rainsy that Hun Sen had bribed social media celebrity and ruling party darling Thy Sovantha $1 million to wage a campaign against the opposition.
The claims were based on leaked text messages purportedly between Hun Sen and Sovantha, who has been a frequent critic of the opposition since she officially defected from the party to join the CPP.
While authorities said the leak was being investigated, no results were announced, and the court sided with the premier and his claims to $1 million in damages last December.
Sam Sokong, Rainsy’s lawyer, questioned why the Hun Sen defamation case was included in the order despite there being an Appeal Court hearing on the case soon.
Sokong added that he will consult with Rainsy on whether to challenge the injunction and annul the warrant.
The Phnom Penh court also issued a summons to Rainsy yesterday asking him to appear before court on March 19 after he was accused of inciting and demoralising the military for urging soldiers not
to fire on protesters. Sokong said he would represent Rainsy in court.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin refused to explain why the Hun Sen defamation case had been included in the warrant.
“I have no time to explain to you. Please read the criminal court procedure by yourselves,” Rin said.
However, Ky Tech, the complainants’ lawyer, said he filed the injunction to ensure that his clients were paid what they were due.
“When we think that the debtor might escape and not pay back the creditor, we have the right to request this warrant in order to seize the property of the debtor and to ensure the compensation,” he said.