The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced exiled opposition president Sam Rainsy to five years in prison, along with two of his Facebook administrators, in what analysts called a politically motivated case designed to further cripple Rainsy’s chances in the next election.
Administrators Sambath Satya and Ueng Chong Leang, both in their early 20s, were found guilty of several charges stemming from a video clip, posted to Rainsy’s page, in which opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour presented a “fake” version of a 1979 treaty that purported to dissolve the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Sok Hour was last month sentenced to seven years in prison for forgery and incitement to commit a crime, while Rainsy, Satya and Chong Leang were yesterday found guilty as “accomplices”.
The three, who have all fled to France, were found guilty of “incitement to commit a felony or to disturb social security”, “participation in a conspiracy to commit offences” and “fraudulent modification of data”. However, presiding judge Leang Samnat said Satya’s and Chong Leang’s five-year sentences would amount to three years each, with two years suspended.
“We order the arrest of Sam Rainsy, Ueng Chong Leang and Sambath Satya to serve their sentences according to the verdict,” Samnat said.
Rainsy yesterday took to Facebook to air his grievances over the decision.
“Under Hun Sen’s repressive regime shamelessly using its Kangaroo Court, Cambodia is a sadly unique country where innocents are prosecuted and persecuted while criminals walk free with total impunity,” he wrote.
In an email prior to the decision, Rainsy appeared to distance himself from Sok Hour.
“When Hong Sok Hour’s incriminat[ing] document was posted – and deleted a few hours later – on 11 August 2015, I was traveling in the USA and came back to Cambodia only five days later without having been personally involved in the concerned post,” he wrote.
“[But] I want to show my solidarity towards him and my other CNRP colleagues because I want to promote freedom of expression that exists in any democratic society,” Rainsy later told The Post.
Rainsy added that the jail terms would only encourage him to “fight harder” during the 2017 and 2018 elections.
Rainsy’s defence lawyer, Sam Sokong, who was not present in the courtroom for the verdict, said the decision was unacceptable and he would appeal it in January.
Political analyst Ou Virak, meanwhile, said the court’s decision was likely part of a wider plan to politically corner Rainsy ahead of the national election in 2018.
“It does not matter how heavy the punishment is since he is abroad, but if he wants to participate in the political competition, he needs a pardon first,” Virak said.
“This decision is putting more pressure on Sam Rainsy to prevent him from returning to Cambodia, except through political negotiations where he is offered a pardon.”
Rainsy was also found guilty of defamation last month over statements he made accusing Prime Minister Hun Sen of purchasing “fake” Facebook likes. He initially fled the country in November of 2015 to avoid arrest over a 7-year-old defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
His self-exile was later made official by a seemingly unconstitutional government order forbidding his return.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said the trio had the chance to appeal, but if they did not, the government would seek the extradition of Satya and Chong Leang from France to serve out their sentences.
Malin added that Rainsy was a French citizen and therefore could not be extradited.