The Phnom Penh municipal court on March 1 sentenced Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the now dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to 25 years in prison in-absentia. Rainsy has been living in self-exile abroad for several years.
The former-CNRP officials who served as his accomplices each received sentences from 20 to 22 years in prison on charges of committing an “attack liable to endanger the institutions of the Kingdom of Cambodia or violate the integrity of the national territory” under Article 451 of the Criminal Code.
Phnom Penh municipal court spokesman Y Rin told The Post on March 1 that the trial council had handed down a verdict in Rainsy and eight other officials’ cases on the Article 451 charges they were alleged to have committed in Cambodia in 2019.
“Sam Rainsy was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang were sentenced to 22 years in prison each. Tioulong Saumura, Men Sothavrin, Ou Chanrith, Ho Vann, Long Ry and Nuth Romduol were sentenced to 20 years in prison each,” he said.
“The verdict was announced with lawyers representing the government present and the accused persons have the right to file an appeal if they do so within the period of time established by law,” he said.
Y Rin added that the accused persons had also been deprived of their citizenship rights definitively, disenfranchised for purposes of voting or standing for office in elections and disqualified from working in the [government] framework as civil service officials. They were also ordered to pay the government compensation of 1,800 million riel.
Som Sokong, the defence lawyer of the nine accused persons could not be reached for comment on March 1.
Government lawyer Koun Saroeun told The Post on March 1 that for an Article 451 offence the law is defines how many years the sentence will be and that the maximum sentence is 30 years. So, the meting out of the sentence in this case was within the statutory guidelines.
“The length of this sentence is more than half of the possible total sentence, but it isn’t the maximum sentence allowed by law. Sentences are established by statute but subject to the discretion of the judge. This sentence is certainly at a level that is under the law’s stipulated maximum for this offence in our criminal code,” he said.
After being notified of his sentence Sam Rainsy took to Facebook, writing in a post that he regarded the court’s ruling as ridiculous.
“This ridiculous verdict reflects the fears of Hun Sen, who wanted to oust Sam Rainsy from the political stage in Cambodia because he knows that if there was a fair election his out-of-date dictatorial regime would come to an end,” Rainsy wrote.
“Whoever is persecuted by these puppet-courts under this dictator’s regime are the ones who are struggling to bring freedom to the nation, truly,” he stated.
Judge Duch Sok Sarin showed a short video clip of Rainsy speaking at a meeting in the US on September 14-15 of 2019 about his plans to return to Cambodia on November 9 of that year to “arrest” Prime Minister Hun Sen despite the fact that the verdicts and sentences for the nine defendants had already been handed down at that point.
The clip shows Rainsy trying to persuade Cambodian soldiers to ignore the orders of their senior officers and not to obey the government but rather instead to – in his words – stand on the side of the citizens.
Rainsy then seemingly attempts to bribe Cambodia’s soldiers, claiming that if they put him in power he would put together a financial assistance package for them funded through donations from abroad.
The clip also has Rainsy calling on all Cambodian migrant workers to prepare to accompany him on November 9, 2019 as he returns to Cambodia via one of the land border crossings with Thailand.
“When we have a genuine democracy we will ensure that members of our armed forces live prosperous lives and they will be honoured as Cambodia’s heroes. All Khmer [people] have to join us in our mission to rescue the nation,” Rainsy says in the video clip.