Phnom Penh Municipal Court has issued a summons for opposition leader Sam Rainsy to appear in January, to answer court questions in a new defamation case.
Sam Rainsy, the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, remains abroad, already facing an arrest warrant for a criminal defamation case brought by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.
The new summons, which was issued Tuesday, is related to a complaint filed by National Assembly President Heng Samrin, a ranking member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
He is accusing Sam Rainsy of posting a video on Facebook in November, in which late King Norodom Sihanouk gives a speech criticizing the government, then led by Heng Samrin, of allowing Vietnamese soldiers to become Cambodian citizens.
The fear of Vietnamese occupation and infiltration is a long-standing political flashpoint in Cambodia.
Ky Tech, the lawyer for Heng Samrin, told VOA Khmer on Wednesday that the lawsuit is not related to politics, but that it defames Heng Samrin.
“This video clip has the intention of manipulating the national and international public, because in this clip King Norodom Sihanouk said things related to criticism he made against Vietnamese people and the military that came to live silently in Cambodia.” The clip “criticized the leadership of [Excellency] Heng Samrin,” Ky Tech said.
In a statement released after the summons, Sam Rainsy said he himself never mentions Heng Samrin by name. “Mr. Heng Samrin has no grounds to lodge any complaint against me, because I just posted a video clip that has been circulating on the Internet/Youtube for more than 30 years,” he said.
The court actions against Sam Rainsy come despite widespread condemnation by the international community and fears that Cambodia’s upcoming elections, in 2017 and 2018, will not be free and fair.
The summons coincided with an arrest warrant issued for Sambath Satya, the assistant of jailed Rescue Party senator Hong Sok Hour, who is facing charges related to the online posting of an allegedly fake border document between Cambodia and Vietnam, in August. Hong Sok Hour remains in poor health and in detention in Prey Sar prison.
Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith said the party believes the summons and the warrant are “a political issue, rather than a court issue.”
Sam Rainsy is unlikely to appear for the summons. “Sam Rainsy will not enter the country, because the leaders of the [Rescue Party] want to see political stability and quiet,” Yem Ponhearith said.