The Phnom Penh Municipal Court held a hearing yesterday in a defamation case against opposition leader Sam Rainsy filed by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong despite the absence of both the accused and his lawyer.
The charges were brought under the UNTAC criminal code and stem from comments that Sam Rainsy, president of the eponymous political party, made on April 17, 2008.
According to the 2008 complaint, Sam Rainsy alleged that Hor Namhong headed the Boeung Trabek prison under the Khmer Rouge. Hor Namhong won a similar suit in France in 2008 that levied a symbolic fine on Sam Rainsy for comments in his autobiography.
At yesterday’s hearing, judge Seng Neang asked Ek Chheng Huot, the deputy prosecutor, and Kar Savuth, Hor Namhong’s attorney, whether the court should go ahead without Sam Rainsy and his counsel. Both advised the judge to proceed.
Long Visalo, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, appeared to testify on behalf of Hor Namhong, and a court clerk also read testimony from former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav on behalf of the foreign minister.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, last year became the first defendant convicted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal and has been represented there by Kar Savuth.
If convicted, Sam Rainsy faces fines and up to four years in prison under Articles 62 and 63 of the UNTAC code.
Kar Savuth argued that witness testimony and the French court ruling proved Hor Namhong was merely the head of a small group of inmates at the prison – not the prison chief.
“I would like the court to convict Sam Rainsy seriously, and demand 10 million riel (US$2,505) for compensation,” Kar Savuth said yesterday, though he told reporters outside the court that the most important thing for his client was that Sam Rainsy be punished.
The embattled opposition leader, who is currently based in France, has already stacked up 12 years in prison related to a political stunt opposing alleged Vietnamese encroachment along the border in 2009.
He was stripped of his parliamentary seat last month as a result of the convictions.
Choung Choungy, Sam Rainsy’s attorney, declined to comment at length yesterday, saying his client was “not interested” in the case.