The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced opposition Senator Thak Lany in absentia to 18 months in prison for alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen was behind the assassination of political analyst Kem Ley.
The ruling came as it emerged that Lany, a lawmaker for the legacy Sam Rainsy Party, is in Sweden, where she has been granted political asylum, according to her husband and a colleague.
At court yesterday, presiding judge Y Thavarak convicted Lany of incitement to cause chaos and defamation over the comments made during a speech to supporters in Ratanakkiri province on July 29 in the wake of Ley’s death.
Thavarak set an 18-month jail term, issued a warrant for Lany’s arrest and ordered her to pay a fine of 8 million riel, about $2,000, and give 100 riel in symbolic compensation to the premier.
Lany’s remarks emerged by way of a video uploaded to Facebook. During the trial, defence attorney Sam Sokong argued the footage was doctored and the senator’s comments taken out of context.
Yesterday, Sokong pledged to appeal the “unjust” sentence.
Speaking after the hearing, Lany’s husband, Chhun Bun San, said he did not believe his wife had accused Hun Sen of ordering a hit on Ley – who was gunned down by a former soldier at a Phnom Penh gas station on July 10 – because she was “not brave [enough]”.
Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy also faces defamation and incitement charges for linking the prime minister to Ley’s murder, which is widely believed a political assassination. The premier has denied involvement.
Like Rainsy, who fled to France to avoid arrest in a separate case last year, Lany has also taken refuge abroad.
Bun San yesterday said his wife received political asylum in Sweden with the help of the United Nations.
Though the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regional spokeswoman Vivian Tan yesterday said she said had no information on the case, SRP acting president Teav Vannol said that Lany, during a recent telephone conversation, confirmed she reached the Scandinavian state about three weeks ago with the help of the UN human rights agency.
He said Lany, who was warned by Hun Sen not to leave the country, had initially fled to Thailand, though said he was not aware of when and how she had left.
“There were some Cambodian people living there, so she hooked up with [them] in Bangkok and they took her to the human rights office in Thailand and then she filed for asylum there,” Vannol said.
Now in Sweden, he said Lany was taking language lessons and being supported by the Swedish government.
“She’s doing fine, she’s missing Cambodia very much and she’s lonely, because it’s only her that went to Sweden, not her husband,” Vannol said.
“She hopes that Cambodians will solve the political deadlock so she can come back home to the country.”
Reached in Sweden, Lany declined to comment. The Swedish Embassy in Phnom Penh also did not respond to an email by press time.