Court told to act against former opposition leader for insulting King

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana has ordered the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor to begin legal proceedings against the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) president, Sam Rainsy, for “insulting” the King, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin told The Post.

The “insult” was determined after Rainsy claimed that a letter from King Norodom Sihamoni urging the people to vote in the July 29 national elections was made “under duress”, a theory dismissed by the Ministry of the Royal Palace.

After the allegations were made by Rainsy, the Ministry of the Royal Palace issued a press release claiming that the accusation of forgery in the King’s letter constituted “ill-intent”.

“The Ministry of the Royal Palace would like to inform the public that the letter of His Majesty the King of the Kingdom of Cambodia was not forged, and there was no threat towards the King. The letter is real.

“The Ministry of the Royal Palace strongly dismisses and rejects completely any allegations otherwise,” it said.

Announced on June 4 but dated May 18, the King’s directive urged citizens to exercise their right to vote during the elections on July 29. The document ignited a war of words between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Rainsy.

On Sunday, Rainsy once again put the blame for all criminaloffences regarding “insults” to the King on the prime minister. Writing on his Facebook page, he said Hun Sen has “insulted and threatened the King” for years.

“Lastly, the dictator Hun Sen ordered his henchman to prepare the lèse majesté law [which criminalised insults against the monarch]. This is his excuse to suppress people who are genuinely asking for democracy, freedom and justice,” Rainsy wrote.

He also reiterated his claim that the letter from the King was “forged” or made under “duress”, and that it went against a petition he had sent, urging for an intervention into the country’s political crisis.

It was “strange”, Rainsy said, that the King’s letter was issued two months before the elections, rather than in the weeks before it, as is normal practice.

“Hun Sen has used the King’s name to cheat me and the people once more. He knows that the overwhelmingly majority of people are ready not to go to the polls . . . I still believe that any letter from the King, at this time, would be made under duress, and such a letter carries no value, according to legal procedures,” he said.

However, not all opposition leaders are sympathetic to Rainsy. The Cambodian Youth Party (CYP) and the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP) have also asked the court to act against him.

The CYP’s president, Pich Sros, said he supported any action by the Ministry of Justice against him.

“On behalf of a political party that follows the King, I do not support Rainsy’s actions that insult the King. He is responsible for his actions according to law. Therefore, I call on the court act against Rainsy".

“It is his [the justice minister’s] right to take legal action if anyone insults the King . . . It is the Ministry of Justice’s duty to enforce the law,” Sros told The Post on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Malin said the case against Rainsy had received support from the public and political parties that requested legal action be taken against him.

“Therefore, the minister of justice has ordered the prosecutor to begin criminal proceedings in the case. This case involves our national reputation and is a serious violation towards the King. If this were an ordinary case, it would not need a direct order [from the Ministry of Justice]. However, this case is very sensitive as it affects the King, who is a symbol of the nation,” Malin said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana did not respond to requests for comment.

Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker, said he was not surprised at the legal action against Rainsy.

“I think it’s not strange in political competition. This is nothing new as we all know the Ministry of Justice is unlikely to provide justice to the opposition,” Chanrath said.

Giving his take on the matter, political analyst Lao Mon Hay said it is futile to go after Rainsy with more criminal charges.

“The minister of justice has the power to order the prosecutor to conduct such an investigation, but Rainsy is used to having criminal charges levelled against him. He doesn’t seem to care much about them now that he is in exile abroad and beyond the jurisdiction of the Cambodian justice system,” Mon Hay said.