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Sam Rainsy Tried for Alleging Land Loss on Web Map

Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday held a hearing for opposition leader Sam Rainsy on charges related to his posting of a border map on the opposition party's website that the government says is illegal.

Sam Rainsy is facing charges of distributing a falsified document and disinformation, which together carry a maximum penalty of 18 years in prison.

Sam Rainsy remains in exile abroad and was not present for the hearing, which lasted from 8 am to 1:30 pm amid heightened security by armed police and military police. Officials had feared protests from Sam Rainsy Party supporters.

Judges said they would issue a verdict on Sept. 23.

Sam Rainsy has maintained that his map, posted on the Sam Rainsy Party website earlir this year, demonstrates the loss of Cambodian land to encroachment by its neighbors but the government says the map is not accurate.

The loss of Cambodian land is a political flashpoint for opponents of the government. Sam Rainsy is already facing a two-year jail term for uprooting markers along the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province last year, where villagers said they had lost land to Vietnamese encroachment.

Defense attorney Choung Chungy said during Wednesday's hearing the Web map was drawn by a foreign map expert according to two month's of research, including in French historical archives. An accurate map had been posted on the party's website, he said, which meant no disinformation occurred.

However, the court prosecutor, Sok Roeun, said a false map was posted to create turmoil within Cambodian society. He drew on testimony from two map experts from Cambodia's Border Committee who said Sam Rainsy's map did not adhere to an official map that has been at the UN since 1960.

The government's lawyer, Ky Tech, said the government had made several requests to Sam Rainsy to correct the map. Those requests were not heeded, he said. He pointed to grid lines on Sam Rainsy's map that did not exist on the original Cambodian map; incorrect border markers; and technical mistakes as evidence the map was false.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, told reporters after the hearing that the court had not listened carefully to the defense.

“I think if the court sentences Sam Rainsy independently, he will be free,” he said. “But if they make their sentence according to politics, Sam Rainsy will be sentenced to jail.”