Rainsy royal defamation suit underway

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former CNRP president Sam Rainsy in 2015. Hong Menea

At the request of Minister of Justice Koeut Rith, Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Chreng Khmao is working on taking legal action against Sam Rainsy for allegedly insulting King Norodom Sihamoni in a commentary that was posted to his Facebook page on December 20.

Rith said in the letter: “The contents of the posts that Sam Rainsy published to his Facebook page insulted the king. These insults have seriously affected the dignity and reputation of the greatly revered King of Cambodia. This act is a violation of the Kingdom’s Constitution and is prosecutable as a criminal offence.”

The former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long been known for igniting political controversies in Cambodia, according to political analysts.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, was of the view that the insults against the King were the direct intent of the opposition figure, born out of a desire for revenge.

“Sam Rainsy is an unethical politician. His speeches are like a drunken man. He no longer knows anything. His speeches are nothing but insults to all who have to listen to them,” he said.

Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said on December 27 that insulting the King is not considered a legitimate exercise of free speech or expression under the Cambodian law.

“Following an injunction by His Excellency the justice minister, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor’s office is investigating this matter.”

He said insulting the King is a criminal offence punishable by imprisononment under Article 437 of the Criminal Code.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said that Rainsy’s remarks had possibly violated the law in two instances.

Firstly, Rainsy had questioned the transparency and accountability of the campaign to solicit monetary donations from the public in order to buy Covid-19 vaccines, implying the existence of corruption in these charitable efforts, which the King has supported along with Prime Minister Hun Sen and the rest of Cambodia’s political leadership, without offering any evidence for it.

More directly, and perhaps more seriously from a legal perspective, Chanroeun said, Rainsy also made several more comments that were plainly rude and could be regarded as insulting to the King.

“I’ve long said that Sam Rainsy seemed to be intent on causing political trouble in Cambodia. His latest statements will likely earn him yet another conviction in court, now just one of several.

“As far as I know, Sam Rainsy has faced more charges in court than any other politician in the modern era,” he asserted.

Chanroeun added that he was a long time observer of politics in Cambodia and that most political disputes in Cambodia were not solved easily through the courts or the legal system, but more typically through negotiation and political compromise.

“Hence, Sam Rainsy’s legal troubles are like those of other CNRP politicians – if these cases are to be resolved, it will likely be due to political expediency or necessity and they will probably all be negotiated together as a package,” he said.

Chanroeun agrees that politicians should show respect and not criticise or belittle the King. But he also believes that the legislators should have tried to come up with some means to provide constructive criticism of the King without fear of prosecution so that the King will always have the honest advice he may need to perform his duties as the head of state.

He also said that Cambodian politicians should try to find an opportune time to exchange views to avoid angry confrontations or heated words.

He suggested that perhaps new mechanisms to facilitate and solve political conflicts and disputes in the presence of the King or with the King as mediator might be of value given the amount of respect he is accorded, not just by law, but in all sincerity by the Cambodian people.