Sam Rainsy has been convicted in absentia for supposedly ‘ceding territory to a foreign entity’
Cambodian opponent in exile and leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy (left), arrives at the courthouse accused in a defamation lawsuit filed by Cambodia's prime minister, in Paris on Sept. 1. (Photo: AFP)
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has sentenced Sam Rainsy, the leader-in-exile of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), to life behind bars for “ceding territory” after he met with indigenous groups, reports said.
Rainsy, who lives in France, has been convicted in absentia on charges ranging from incitement and defamation to plotting to overthrow the government, and his sentences to date total more than 40 years, besides the life term handed down on Oct. 19.
He was charged for a meeting in 2013 with an ethnic Jarai leader who headed the Montagnard Foundation. He reportedly promised to uphold the rights of minorities if the CNRP won the upcoming national elections.
According to Voice of Democracy (VOD), details of the meeting became public through a video posted on Facebook in 2018.
VOD said Sam Rainsy did not pledge to give away any land but “the government and Fresh News latched on to the video and accused Rainsy of ceding territory to a foreign entity.”
The CNRP was tantalizingly close to winning the election in 2013. It was outlawed by the courts four years later and the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 seats it contested in 2018.
Since then CNRP supporters have been the subject of five mass trials, mostly related to promises by Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia, stage a popular rebellion and oust Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The marathon trial of Kem Sokha, former CNRP president, too was adjourned on Oct. 19 for two months to enable the defense and prosecution to prepare for their closing arguments.
Kem Sokha is facing life imprisonment if convicted of conspiring with a foreign power to oust the Cambodian government, charges he has strenuously denied.
To meet those ends, he was accused of using a “fake human rights” group funded by the United States-based International Republican Institute and training activists at the Centre for Applied Non-violent Action and Strategies with “color revolutionary” strategies.
Kem Sokha, arrested in 2017, told the bench that he would like the hearings to finish as soon as possible, adding that he was suffering from back pains caused by sitting for too long in the dock, given his trial has lasted about two years.
“I don’t want to suffer any longer,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I want it to finish very soon and to receive justice.”
His lawyers had urged a speedy trial after delays were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and one lawyer, speaking outside the court, said they would have preferred a shorter recess.
Judge Koy Sao said two months was enough time for all parties to prepare and scheduled the next hearing for December 21.
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