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Court Sentences Former Opposition Leader to 20 Months in Defamation Case

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 2015 file photo, Sam Rainsy, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), waves from a car upon his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as hundreds of cheering supporters greeted him on his return from a trip abroad. The head of Cambodia's opposition party has announced his resignation from the group after the country's long-serving prime minister announced plans for a law that could lead to the party's dissolution. Rainsy announced his resignation Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 in a letter to his Cambodia National Rescue Party.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith, File)

The case was brought against Sam Rainsy after he allegedly said that Hun Sen was behind the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley last year.

A Cambodian court has sentenced the former leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, to serve 20 months in prison and a fine of $2,500 in a defamation case filed by lawyers acting on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The case was brought against Rainsy after he allegedly said that Hun Sen was behind the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley last year.

Rainsy, who is living in exile in France, was also ordered to pay a nominal fee of 100 riel (about 2 cents) to Hun Sen as compensation.

Ly Sophanna, Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman, said on Thursday that Rainsy had been found guilty of defamation and incitement.

Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, filed the complaint against Rainsy in August. Hun Sen alleged that Rainsy defamed him in a post on his Facebook page and in a radio interview, where he alleged that the premier was involved in Ley’s daylight murder.

Hun Sen has denied any involvement in the killing.

Sam Sokong, Rainsy’s lawyer, said the court’s decision was wrong as there was not evidence of incitement in the case.

“It can only be incitement if there were losses or damages caused by what was said. But in this case, after the comments on Radio Free Asia, there was no loss of damage or chaos caused by the remarks,” he said.

However, Sophanna said the court’s decision was fair and based on the evidence presented in the case.

Sokong said he would discuss with Rainsy the possibility of filing an appeal.

Rainsy has a previous, outstanding defamation conviction in a case filed by a former foreign minister, Hor Namhong, which could see him spend an additional two years in prison if he returns to Cambodia.

He also faces several other unresolved cases filed by senior members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.