Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced to 12 years in jail Thursday, on forgery and disinformation charges for publishing a map on his party's website alleging Vietnamese border encroachment.
Those 12 years are added to a two-year sentence Sam Rainsy is already facing for uprooting markers along the Vietnamese border last year. He also received a fine of 65 million riel, more than $15,000—5 million riel to the court and 60 million riel to the government as reparation.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Ke Sakhan said at the conclusion of Sam Rainsy's trial in August he had deemed the map to be false and posted as an act to hurt the government's image.
Sam Rainsy has been in exile since the first set of charges were levied against him last October, and the map, he said, was meant to verify border claims he had made at the time.
Sam Rainsy's lawyer, Kong Bora, called the verdict a “grave injustice,” and said the judgement had “followed the orders of an individual who is currently in power.”
However, government attorney Ky Tech said the punishment was just as “the damage caused by Sam Rainsy was very big.”
In statements ahead of the verdict this week, Sam Rainsy said he would seek international intervention the cases against him, which he said were political. Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior officials have said there will be no political solution and left the case in the hands of the court.
Opposition lawmakers and other political observers have pointed to what they say is a systematic use of the courts to silence the opposition and political dissent, including the jailing of newspaper editors, human rights workers and others.
Observers say the new sentencing of Sam Rainsy will deprive the country of the lead opposition as Cambodia prepares for commune elections in 2012 and national elections the following year.
“Only a political compromise can bring him back,” said Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho.