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Cambodian Opposition Chief Handed Heavy Fines in Defamation Ruling

FILE - Sam Rainsy (C), leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party is seen speaking at a protest in central Phnom Penh.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was found guilty Friday of defaming National Assembly President Heng Samrin, a high-ranking member of the ruling party, in a Facebook post last November.

Under Article 305 of the criminal code, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ros Piseth charged Rainsy with public defamation over the November 17 post, and ordered him to pay $37,000 (150 million riel) to Samrin, a senior Cambodian People’s Party member, and $2,400 (10 million riel) to the state.

Rainsy, the self-exiled president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was accused of posting a video of a speech made by the late King Norodom Sihanouk in which the monarch criticized the government of the day, which was led by Samrin, saying he had allowed occupying Vietnamese soldiers to settle in the country and become citizens.

Samrin’s lawyer, Ky Tech, said he was disappointed with the verdict as it did not match the seriousness of the crime.

“The youth who do not know our history now believe that there really was a trial [against Sihanouk],” he said.

“It strongly affects the reputation of Samdech Heng Samrin, who had the top position during that time,” he added. “More importantly, it also affects the reputation of the CPP.”

Ou Virak, head of the Future Forum think tank, said the fines were excessive and should be levied only in defamation cases between politicians as a symbolic gesture.

“Defamation among politicians is related to freedom of expression, which is at the core of politics, so compensation should be kept to a minimum," he said.

Eng Chhay Eang, a CNRP lawmaker, said the verdict was politically motivated, adding that a solution to the ongoing political crisis in Cambodia was proving hard to come by.

“We are seeking ways to bring together [the parties] for talks,” he said. “When there is the political will, anything can be solved.”

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.