Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday charged Sam Rainsy with lèse-majesté following comments he made insulting King Norodom Sihamoni, whom he referred to as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s hostage.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia on Thursday, Mr Rainsy said: “Our King is the hostage of Hun Sen. Our King is afraid of Hun Sen, as he wants to keep this throne. We cannot expect anything from the King, who is the puppet of Hun Sen.”
His remarks about the King, who is on a routine medical check-up with Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk in Beijing, prompted the Royal Palace to condemn the former opposition leader on Friday.
In a statement, the Royal Palace Ministry said Mr Rainsy, who lives in self-exile in France due to his criminal record, again committed an intolerable act and used words insulting the King.
“The Royal Palace Ministry strongly condemns Mr Rainsy, whose unfaithful nature has always harmed the reputation of His Majesty the King of Cambodia, a highly revered King fulfilling a noble role of protecting the national unity and sustainability,” it said.
The ministry noted in the statement that due to the noble role of His Majesty, the Kingdom is enjoying peace and development under the leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia.
Following the ministry’s statement, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana on Friday requested Phnom Penh Municipal Court to charge Mr Rainsy for seriously insulting the King.
“The Ministry of Justice calls the prosecutor to take urgent legal action for the case of insulting the King in accordance with existing laws,” Mr Vong Vathana said in a letter to the court.
In a court statement issued on Friday, court prosecutor Keo Sothea responded by deciding to charge Mr Rainsy with lèse-majesté and send the case to an investigating judge. He also requested the temporary detention of Mr Rainsy.
“Sam Rainsy’s words have a serious impact on the charisma of His Majesty the King of Cambodia, who is highly respected by all the Khmer people,” the statement said.
“The serious insults against His Majesty the King is a violation of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia and is determined as a criminal offence and punishable under Article 437 of the Criminal Code,” it added.
The charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to $2,500.
Numerous national and subnational institutions also issued remarks condemning Mr Rainsy. Dozens of military units also issued similiar statements.
General Chhum Sucheat, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, yesterday said the comments made by Mr Rainsy are “unacceptable”. He also called for stronger action to be taken against him.
“It is a serious insult against the King, who is highly respected by the Cambodian people,” Gen Sucheat said. “It is also a violation of the constitution and laws in the Kingdom that all Cambodian people cannot accept.”
The Council of Ministers in its own statement defended Mr Hun Sen and called for punishment against Mr Rainsy.
“The Council of Ministers strongly condemns Sam Rainsy for the defamation, which is not true,” it said. “He has put the blame on Samdech [Mr Hun Sen] multiple times. In addition, because of his ambition for power, Sam Rainsy dares to do everything, including daring to insult the King.”
Other condemnations against Mr Rainsy came from numerous ministries, provincial administrations and institutions, as well as the Senate and National Assembly.
Several political parties also voiced their opinion, including the CPP and Funcinpec party.
Funcinpec said in its statement that it considered Mr Rainsy a “traitor” for his words against the King.
“The convict Sam Rainsy is a traitor in nature. He mostly says things that affect the honour of His Majesty, the King, who is highly respected by the Cambodian people in the Kingdom,” the statement said.
In a statement on Twitter on Saturday, Mr Rainsy defended his remarks, saying his words were not a crime.
“I have been accused of lèse-majesté by Prime Minister Hun Sen. I accuse Hun Sen of taking King Norodom Sihamoni as a hostage to try to legitimise his illegal government arising from the false election of 2018,” Mr Rainsy said.
“My views reflect those of a large part of the population and it is not a crime to state them. Unlike his father Norodom Sihanouk, this King has never opened his eyes to see the sufferings of his people,” he added.
In May, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mr Rainsy in absentia to a total of eight years in prison for demoralising the armed forces and insulting King Sihamoni.
General Neth Savoeun, chief of the National Police, on Saturday issued a statement saying that police are ready to cooperate with all relevant authorities to arrest Mr Rainsy to protect the King and the nation if he returns to the country, which he has claimed he will do in November.