Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy was convicted by the Phnom Penh court for the fourth time in the last year and sentenced to 20 months in prison for alleging that political commentator Kem Ley’s slaying last year was an act of “state sponsored terrorism” – a suspicion held by many Cambodians.
Rainsy was convicted yesterday for “incitement” and “defamation through the media” by trial judge Y Thavrak, and in addition to the prison sentence has to pay a 10 million riel (about $2,500) penalty and a symbolic punitive fine of 100 riel to Prime Minster Hun Sen.
Following Ley’s death last July, Rainsy took to his Facebook page calling the alleged assassination a state-sponsored act. Forty-four-year-old former soldier Oeut Ang was convicted last week for Ley’s killing, though the ruling failed to diminish suspicions that others were involved.
Yesterday’s conviction comes months after Sam Rainsy Party Senator Thak Lany expressed similar views about the government’s involvement in the killing, resulting in an 18-month sentence and similar fines. Lany fled to Sweden before being prosecuted, however.
Rainsy, who is exiled in France, yesterday dismissed the conviction handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, saying his statements would hold up in the court of public opinion. “In terms of public opinion, the government’s use of such cases is self-defeating, as they simply underline what millions of Cambodians already suspect about the death of Kem Ley, and what they already know about their court system,” he said, via email.
Sam Sokong, Rainsy’s lawyer, was also dissatisfied at what he characterised as the flimsy evidence – an interview with Radio Free Asia in which Rainsy aired similar views that was used to try his client. The court did not produce the original offending Facebook post, saying it had been deleted.
“The verdict is unacceptable because His Excellency [Rainsy] only used his freedom of speech in a democratic country,” he said. “With the incitement charge, there has been no damage or harm from what he said.”
Despite the victory, Ky Tech, the premier’s lawyer, said the punishment wasn’t reflective of the damage Rainsy had inflicted on the “highest institution of the country”. “This was to ignite the anger of the public and to believe that the killing of Kem Ley was done by the government, or the state,” he said.