Rainsy, accomplices receive prison terms

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Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy walks to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2014. Hong Menea

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 30 announced the verdicts in two high profile cases involving Sam Rainsy and former officials of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Rainsy was found guilty of incitement to commit a felony and incitement of social chaos. He was sentenced to four years in prison and a fine of eight million riel ($2,000).

The court also ordered Rainsy to pay two billion riel in compensatory damages to the government for inciting social unrest.

Rainsy’s four alleged accomplices were also found guilty and were sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison. They were also fined four million riel each.

Among those present in the courtroom on December 30 to hear the verdicts were Sam Sokong, a lawyer representing Rainsy, and two of Rainsy’s accomplices – Ouk Chhom, a former executive vice-chairman of CNRP in Tbong Khmum province, and Lors Chhenglay, former CNRP councillor for Battambang province’s Bavil district.

Presiding Judge Ros Piseth stated that after hearing the arguments of the defence lawyer and the prosecution at the trial held on December 21, he had decided to sentence Rainsy to two years in prison on each charge, amounting to four years in total.

The court also issued a warrant for Rainsy’s arrest, a standard procedure for defendants who have been tried and convicted in-absentia.

“[The] defendant Sam Rainsy was charged with incitement to commit a felony under articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code in 2019,” Judge Piseth said, adding that in one of Rainsy’s cases he had four known accomplices.

Two of the accomplices were monks named But Buntenh and Tum Bunthon. They were both sentenced to one year and eight months in prison with a fine of four million riel each.

Defendants Chhom and Chhenglay, the former CNRP officials, were sentenced to one year and six months in prison and fined two million riel each.

Rainsy’s lawyer, Sokong, told reporters outside the courtroom that the court did not achieve justice for his client with either verdict in the two cases.

“I will discuss these sentences with my client further and [possibly] file appeals with the Appeal Court. But the decision whether or not to appeal has to first be made by my client,” he said.

Licadho deputy director Am Sam Ath, who also attended the hearings, said the verdicts and the cases were drawing a great deal of international criticism while accomplishing very little, and that the charges themselves arguably constituted violations of the right to freedom of expression.