Cambodian court fines exiled former opposition leader US$1 million for defamation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 10:39pm

A court in Cambodia on Friday ordered an exiled former opposition leader to pay US$1 million for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen in a Facebook post.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation in the latest case against him brought by Hun Sen and his ruling party. Sam Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile since late 2015 to avoid a two-year prison sentence also on charges of criminal defamation.

The conviction came during an apparent push by Hun Sen’s government to neutralise political opponents and silence critics before the 2018 election.

The Supreme Court last month ordered Sam Rainsy’s party, the country’s main opposition party, to be dissolved on the grounds that it was plotting to overthrow the government.

Kem Sokha, who took over leading the party, has been detained on treason charges and is awaiting trial.

The government has also intensified restrictions on civil society groups and independent media outlets. The campaign, which means Hun Sen will face no serious challengers in the election, has prompted international condemnation.

The latest case against Sam Rainsy stems from a Facebook post in January in which he accused Hun Sen of offering US$1 million to a political operative to attack the opposition. Hun Sen filed a defamation case and demanded 4 billion riel (US$1 million) in compensation.

The court also ordered Sam Rainsy to pay another 10 million riel as a fine to the state.

Sam Rainsy is also facing a charge of incitement filed by Cambodia’s military last month after he called on soldiers on Facebook not to obey any “dictators” if they are ordered to shoot innocent people.

The US announced last month that it will restrict visas for Cambodians “undermining democracy”. The State Department said it was a direct response to “anti-democratic actions” by the Cambodian government but did not say who would be affected.