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Cambodian Court Rejects Opposition Leader's Final Appeal

  • Robert Carmichael

Sam Rainsy, leader of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party, speaks during a campaign rally in Kandal province, Cambodia, July 11, 2008

Sam Rainsy, leader of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party, speaks during a campaign rally in Kandal province, Cambodia, July 11, 2008

Cambodia’s highest court on Tuesday upheld a two-year jail term imposed on the exiled leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy. The verdict came after he uprooted border markers on the country’s boundary with Vietnam more than a year ago, claiming Cambodian farmers were losing land to their more powerful neighbor.

Judges at the Supreme Court said Tuesday that opposition leader Sam Rainsy must serve the two-year sentence that was handed down last year by a lower court.

Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile in France, was convicted of racial incitement and damaging public property in the October 2009 incident on the border with neighboring Vietnam.

Last week, Sam Rainsy traveled to Washington to rally support from the U.S. government and human rights groups. During the trip, he sat down with VOA's Kate Woodsome to talk about his legal troubles and the future of the opposition.

Senior members of the Sam Rainsy Party, or SRP, said on Tuesday the verdict had come as little surprise. One of them, veteran SRP legislator Son Chhay, says the courts are there to do the bidding of the ruling party.

"We all predicted the Supreme Court will maintain the verdict to send Sam Rainsy to two years in prison," he says. "And we have no hope that the judicial system in Cambodia or the court itself will be able to make any reform to gain some confidence from the public in any near future."

The ruling party’s motive, says Son Chhay, is to ensure that Sam Rainsy is unable to take part in the next election, which is scheduled for 2013.

As matters stand with Tuesday’s ruling, there is little chance that Sam Rainsy can now participate, unless, that is, a political compromise can be reached.

Son Chhay says the international community, which has invested billions of dollars in Cambodia’s political stability, has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

“They seem to be being fooled that the case of Sam Rainsy is an individual case, that it isn’t reflecting the whole need for maintaining the democratic environment in the country," he says. "That is a big mistake, the donors, especially the Western countries, who have provided so much assistance to Cambodia, should look into the issue of Sam Rainsy more seriously.”

During his recent trip to Phnom Penh, the United Nations human rights envoy Surya Subedi said public figures should become more tolerant and should stop using the courts against their critics.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy faces more legal problems.

Last year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he displayed a map at a press conference that the government claimed misrepresented the border between Vietnam and Cambodia.

At the time, the government said that his actions amounted to disinformation and the falsifying of public documents.

The issue of the country’s border with Vietnam is a sensitive one for the government. Prime Minister Hun Sen maintains close relations with Hanoi, and many Cambodians are distrustful of their more powerful neighbor.

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