PHNOM Penh Municipal Court will today hold its first hearing to address new charges facing opposition leader Sam Rainsy, amid scepticism about the likely fairness of the trial.
The Sam Rainsy Party president faces charges of spreading disinformation and falsifying public documents in connection with his ongoing campaign to expose alleged Vietnamese encroachments into Cambodian territory.
The seasoned opposition leader, who is living in self-exile abroad, will not attend the hearing, but his lawyer has vowed to fight the charges in court.
“I have already prepared myself to defend my client. I have already studied the case and seen that my client had not committed the offences that the court has accused him of,” Choung Choungy said.
Sam Rainsy has had a two-year jail term hanging over his head since January, when Svay Rieng provincial court convicted him of uprooting demarcation posts close to the Vietnamese border in Chantrea district in October last year.
Two other villagers were also sentenced to a year in prison in relation to the incident. The Appeal Court is to hear that case on October 5.
The current charges were filed against the politician after he released maps at a video press conference on February 15, which he said indicated that border posts in Chantrea district had been shifted up to 500 metres inside Cambodian territory.
If found guilty on both counts, Sam Rainsy could face up to 18 years in prison.
Choung Choungy said he would present the court with two documents prepared by mapping experts showing that Sam Rainsy did not create a new map, but merely drew from maps that were previously available. “All the previous accusations against Sam Rainsy are incorrect. Sam Rainsy has not acted illegally by faking maps and spreading disinformation,” he said.
Government lawyer Ky Tech, who filed the complaints against Sam Rainsy, declined to comment in detail yesterday, but said that if Sam Rainsy was innocent he should appear at the court in person.
“If [his client] does not have an offence he can make his claims in the hearing. It is up to the court. I do not dare to say if he has a fault or not. It is the court’s decision,” Ky Tech said.
Opposition officials, however, said there was little hope for a fair hearing in such a “political” case.
“The ruling party is using the courts as a tool to muzzle the opposition,” said SRP spokesman Yim Sovann.
He said SRP lawmakers would be on hand to observe the “theatre” of today’s trial, but that no amount of evidence would be sufficient to produce an acquittal.
“Everybody knows that the government is a puppet of the Vietnamese government,” he said. “That is why we can’t say anything. We try our best to protect our country, but the government is trying to hide the truth.”
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the trial was unlikely to throw up any surprises, and that it would probably add a few more years to Sam Rainsy’s existing sentence.
The new charges, he said, could very well be used to press the opposition leader into accepting a compromise in order to pave the way for his return, thereby weakening his domestic political position.
However, Ou Virak noted the lack of outcry on the eve of the trial, saying the public and the international community had perhaps grown weary of Sam Rainsy’s legal travails.
“People are getting tired of the whole thing,” he said. “[Rainsy] is using up all of the credits he has with the international community.”
Municipal court Judge Chea Sok Heang and deputy president Ke Sakhan, who is in charge of the case, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Judge Chang Cinat declined to comment.