The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday sentenced the leader of Cambodia’s opposition to five years in prison on charges of falsifying documents.
Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is currently living in self-imposed exile in France.
Two of his aides were also sentenced in the same case, which stems from the publication on his Facebook page last year of what purported to be a section of a map showing the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
The Facebook post suggested that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government was allowing Vietnamese to expropriate land from Cambodia.
In a separate case, an opposition senator, Hong Sok Hour, was sentenced to seven years on similar charges earlier this year.
Judge Leang Somnat ordered that the three men be arrested, however, along with Rainsy his aides are believed to have left the country ahead of the verdict.
Rainsy responded to the verdict by labeling the trial a “puppet court” which followed the orders of Hun Sen.
“Cambodia is a nation where the innocent are punished while the criminals are free to commit vice with impunity,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Som Sokong, Rainsy’s lawyer, said the decision was unfair as the CNRP president did not directly manage his Facebook account.
“There was not enough evidence to convict,” he said.
He added that Rainsy would appeal the decision.
Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the case has yet more evidence that the courts were pursuing opposition leaders in politically motivated trials.
“I see that there will be more intimidation ahead of the upcoming elections [next year],” she said.
As well as the five-year sentence in this case, Rainsy has also been sentenced to two years for defaming a former senior government official, and has faced other defamation charges brought by Hun Sen and Heng Samrin, the president of the National Assembly.