CNRP President Sam Rainsy was handed a five-year prison sentence by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, adding to a previous two-year term he has evaded in exile. He was convicted along with two of his Facebook managers over a video posted online last year.
Another order for the arrest of Mr. Rainsy, who is living in France and has been banned from returning to the country, was also issued at the sentencing.
The CNRP president, as well as two assistants who worked on his Facebook page, were convicted in absentia by Presiding Judge Leang Samnath of being accomplices to crimes committed by opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour, who cited a fake border treaty in a video criticizing the government, which was posted to Mr. Rainsy’s Facebook page in August last year.
The two assistants, Sathya Sambath, accused of producing the video, and Ung Chung Leang, the manager of Mr. Rainsy’s Facebook page, were also handed five-year sentences, but Judge Samnath said they would only have to serve three, without explaining his decision. The pair are also believed to be living in France and are now wanted for arrest in Cambodia.
In the video, Mr. Sok Hour presents the document, which apparently contains a key mistranslation of a 1979 treaty, to claim the government has ceded vast swaths of land to Vietnam.
The senator received a seven-year prison term last month for forgery and incitement over the post.
Mr. Rainsy took to Facebook on Tuesday to criticize Cambodia’s “Kangaroo Court” over the case, saying Mr. Sok Hour’s “forgery” amounted to merely downloading a pre-existing document off the internet.
The document had been “circulated on the Internet since March 2013,” Mr. Rainsy wrote. It “had one word mistranslated from Khmer to English and from English back to Khmer, with the verb ‘redefine’ becoming ‘dissolve.’”
Since an arrest warrant for Mr. Rainsy was issued in November last year in a separate case over his claims that Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong was responsible for crimes committed at a Khmer Rouge prison, Mr. Rainsy has not returned to Cambodia.
The government officially exiled Mr. Rainsy from the country in directives disseminated in October, citing a risk to the country’s security if he returned.
Deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha has taken up the mantle as acting CNRP leader, and earlier this month officially became the minority leader in parliament,
ostensibly giving him equal footing in discussions with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr. Rainsy had said before that change that he would remain minority leader and dialogue partner with Mr. Hun Sen, and has yet to explain why that changed, leading to speculation of a rift within the CNRP’s leadership.
Mr. Sokha received a royal pardon earlier this month, at Mr. Hun Sen’s request, for his own legal troubles, which saw him facing a five-month prison sentence.
CNRP spokesmen could not be reached on Tuesday. Mr. Rainsy’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said he would appeal the verdict next month. He said the court should have accepted the testimony of Mr. Sok Hour that Mr. Rainsy was not involved in the video being posted on his page.
“If we review the evidence, His Excellency Sam Rainsy was not involved in these charges,” he said.
Mr. Chung Leang, one of the two assistants, said in a Facebook message that the verdict against him was a joke.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I’m not surprised.”
Neither Judge Samnath nor deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok, who handled the case, could be reached for comment after the verdict.
© 2016, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.