Exiled Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy went on trial in absentia Thursday on two charges of defaming his political rivals, including Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen said Sam Rainsy wrongly accused him of being behind a 1997 grenade attack on a peaceful opposition demonstration in the capital that killed 16 people and wounded 114 others.
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, head of the royalist Funcinpec party, has also sued Sam Rainsy for claiming he received a kickback from Hun Sen to join a coalition government last year.
Each defamation charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of 10 million riel (US$2,410; Ђ2,025). In an e-mailed statement Thursday, Sam Rainsy said he would not be surprised if he is found guilty by Cambodia's "politically subservient court." He denounced the court for "adopting a double standard" in prosecuting only government critics while failing to act on complaints the opposition has filed against the government. Sam Rainsy, the leader of an opposition party bearing his name, has been living in exile in France since February when Hun Sen-led coalition lawmakers voted to remove his parliamentary immunity.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the trial is the latest government attempt to silence dissent. "Hun Sen and Prince Ranariddh claim that they are committed to pluralism and democracy, but allowing the leader of the opposition to face prison for criticizing them makes a mockery of that commitment," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement Tuesday.
So far, nobody has been arrested in the March 30, 1997, grenade attack on the demonstrators in Phnom Penh. Hun Sen has denied involvement and the Supreme Court dismissed Sam Rainsy's complaint against him, reports the AP. I.L.