Cambodian court orders sale of former opposition leader’s property

A Cambodia court has ordered the confiscation and forced sale of property owned by the country’s former opposition leader to pay defamation judgements against Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government figures.

A court in the capital Phnom Penh issued four orders this month to sell off the former headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), a building owned by acting party leader Sam Rainsy and his wife, Tioulong Somura.

Sam Rainsy, 72, has lived in exile in France since 2015. In March, he was sentenced in absentia to 25 years for what supporters say was a politically motivated charge of attempting to overthrow the government. The Supreme Court, viewed as beholden to Hun Sen, banned the CNRP on Nov. 15, 2017.

The money from the sale of the property in the capital’s Meanchey district will go to the government and to Hun Sen, House Speaker Heng Samrin, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, and the Cambodian government — all of whom won defamation cases against Sam Rainsy that the opposition and outside observers view as politicized rulings.

In cases against Sam Rainsy dating back to 2015, courts have awarded Hun Sen one billion riels (U.S. $243,600) and Heng Samrin 250 million riels in defamation lawsuits, while awarding Sar Kheng 2 billion riels in a lawsuit charging the former opposition leader with incitement to commit felonies.

In the final case, Sam Rainsy and Tioulong Somura were ordered to pay 1.8 billion riels to the government of Cambodia for plotting to overthrow the government during a planned but failed return to Cambodia on Nov. 9, 2019.

Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 25 years in jail and stripped of his voting rights and right to stand for election. Tioulong Somura and other CNRP senior leaders were sentenced to 20 years in jail on the same charge.

CNRP activists and political analysts said the judge’s decision to sell Sam Rainsy’s property was a sign that there was no relenting in Hun Sen’s campaign to crush the opposition, which will mark the fourth anniversary of its ban on Nov. 15.

“The court’s order is a new sign of turning down any possible talks or hope for the rehabilitation of the CNRP,” said Thailand-based political analyst Seng Sary.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, called the mandated sale a “politically motivated issue” that will serve intimidate other political parties and prevent them from assuming the role of the main opposition party in the next general election in 2023.

The court-ruled dissolution of the CNRP came two months after the arrest of its president Kem Sokha over an alleged plot with Washington to overthrow the government. Kem Sokha remains in legal limbo with tight restrictions on his movement and his trial stalled.

The move came amid a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the country’s political opposition, independent media, and NGOs that allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s party to win all 125 seats in parliament in a June 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.

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