Paris (AFP), September 1 – Sam Rainsy, a longtime Cambodian opposition figure, is due to appear in a French court on Thursday in defamation cases brought against him by senior officials in his home country.
Rainsy, 73, was the subject of two separate complaints by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his son-in-law and deputy national police chief Dy Vichea over Facebook posts dating back to 2019.
Hun Sen disputes Rainsy’s claim that he was behind the 2008 death in a helicopter crash of National Police Chief Hok Lundy, who was Dy Vichea’s father.
“Hun Sun killed Hok Lundy using a bomb placed inside his helicopter,” Rainsy posted on Facebook.
The Cambodian head of government “decided to assassinate Hok Lundy because he knew too much about Hun Sen’s misdeeds”, he added.
Dy Vichea filed a second lawsuit against Rainsy on a separate Facebook post from 2019, which will also be heard on Thursday. The judges could take several weeks to render a verdict.
Luc Brussolet, a lawyer representing the two Cambodian officials, said he expected the court “to find the comments in question to be defamatory”.
But Rainsy’s lawyer, Jessica Finelle, told AFP that judges should “recognize that it is in the public interest for Sam Rainsy to expose the crimes committed by Hun Sen within a dictatorship”.
– ‘Exculpt him’ –
His client “has been persecuted for 30 years by Hun Sen. The only weapon left to him is freedom of expression, to bear witness to what he has experienced and to denounce what political opponents and human rights defenders are suffering. man in Cambodia,” she said.
Rainsy was one of the founders of Cambodia’s National Rescue Party, the country’s main opposition movement.
He spent years battling Hun Sen – who ruled for the past 37 years – before taking refuge in 2015 in France, where he has dual nationality.
Rainsy is the target of numerous trials in Cambodia, where he says he is persecuted for political reasons.
The government accused him of an attempted coup when he sought to return in 2019.
“In his country of origin, Sam Rainsy is the victim of a string of trials, the regime is trying to muzzle him,” said another of his lawyers, Mathias Chichportich.
The French court should “consecrate Sam Rainsy’s right to express his political fight” and “exonerate him”, he added.
“His words are based on a solid factual basis.”
Although Rainsy’s party performed well in the 2013 election, it was disbanded four years later.
In 2018, Hun Sen’s movement won every seat in Cambodia’s parliament, a bitterly contested result.
Since then, an increasing number of dissidents have been arrested and prosecuted.
Dozens of opposition figures were convicted in a mass trial in June, with Rainsy being sentenced to eight years in prison in his absence.
He has already been jailed in his absence for terms of 25 and 10 years for trying to overthrow Hun Sen, who is expected to run again in new elections next July.