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Cablegate: Rainsy Convicted and Sentenced to Two Years For

VZCZCXRO1301
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0075/01 0291010
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 291010Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1632
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000075

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/29/2020
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KTIA KJUS CB
SUBJECT: RAINSY CONVICTED AND SENTENCED TO TWO YEARS FOR
BORDER STUNT

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 16
B. 09 PHNOM PENH 949
C. 09 PHNOM PENH 847

Classified By: DCM THEODORE ALLEGRA FOR REASONS 1.4 (B, D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy was
convicted in absentia January 27 on charges of destroying
public property and inciting national discrimination for his
role in removing temporary markers delineating the
Cambodia-Vietnam border; he was sentenced to two years in
prison and a fine of 8 million riel (approximately $1,950
USD). Two villagers who participated in the October 25
events were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail each.
In addition, the three defendants were ordered collectively
to pay 55 million riel (approximately $13,400 USD) in
compensation to the provincial government. SRP insiders
confirm that Rainsy will appeal the decision to keep his seat
in parliament, though some SRP members admit that Rainsy
"probably stepped over the line" by inciting or abetting
interference in the border demarcation process with Vietnam
-- a divisive political and social issue. They acknowledge
that Rainsy's continued absence from Cambodia will affect the
party's ability to rally and unite its electoral base, but
have formulated a strategy for Rainsy to give digital video
conferences. In the meantime, the SRP continues to attack
the government on the border issue using anti-Vietnamese
rhetoric. END SUMMARY.

-----------
The Hearing
-----------

2. (SBU) On January 27, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court held
a five-hour closing hearing for Sam Rainsy, leader of the
opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), and two farmers on charges
of destroying public property and inciting national
discrimination (Ref C). Rainsy and his supporters had
publicly announced he would remain in France and would not
attend the hearing (Ref A). Typical of Cambodia's civil code
system, the court proceeded with the hearing in absentia.

3. (SBU) According to observers, police surrounded the
courtroom long before the 8:00 a.m. start of the hearing.
Besides the parties and witnesses, a staff member from the UN
Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported
that the police allowed only he and three SRP Members of
Parliament to access the courtroom. Provincial police
officials reportedly constituted the remainder of the
audience inside the courtroom.

4. (SBU) Rainsy's attorney, Choung Chou Ngy, described the
environment outside the courtroom as "intimidating," and
stated his belief that even if the judge wanted to acquit
Rainsy, he would not do so for fear of being arrested. That
said, he reported that the environment inside the courtroom
was calm, and that the hearing followed correct procedure.
Rainsy's lawyer pronounced his satisfaction with the hearing
process and commended Judge Kim Chhean for his conduct of the
hearing by allowing all the lawyers and witnesses sufficient
time to speak and present evidence. The lawyer noted that
the majority of witnesses called were police officials.

5. (SBU) Following a recess, the judge announced guilty
verdicts against Rainsy and two other villagers, including
Meas Srey, the woman who owns the rice field where border
marker 185 was removed on October 25. The judge sentenced
Rainsy to two years in prison and a fine of 8 million riel
(approximately $1,950 USD). The two villagers each received
a one-year jail sentence. In addition, the three defendants
were ordered collectively to pay 55 million riel
(approximately $13,400 USD) in compensation to the plaintiff
- 50 million riel for the removal of the border posts and 5
million riel for incitement. The judge dismissed the charges
against three additional defendants who went into hiding
after officials detained the two farmers on December 23.

------------
The Reaction
------------

6. (SBU) At a January 28 press conference, SRP spokesman Yim
Sovann condemned the hearing and verdict as "theater" meant
to muzzle the opposition, and promised to release yet more
documents to substantiate the claim that the Cambodian
government is ceding Cambodian land to Vietnam. In this
context, SRP members are referring to "Yuon" encroachment on
Cambodian land, using the derogative terms for the
Vietnamese. SRP literature and opposition news articles also

PHNOM PENH 00000075 002 OF 002


provocatively accuse Vietnamese companies of "stealing" land
by placing "invasion posts" on Cambodian farmers' rice
fields, and accuse the government of being a puppet of the
Vietnamese regime.

7. (SBU) Ou Virak, Executive Director of the Cambodian
Center for Human Rights (CCHR) adopted a similar line,
criticizing the court for not attempting to determine the
correct ownership status of land and the border marker
placement. Thun Saray, President of the Cambodian Human
Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) told Poloff the
conviction of the two villagers was unfair, and that he
believed the villagers would never have taken such actions
without the encouragement of Sam Rainsy. He said ADHOC will
continue to help the villagers with legal assistance, and
that when the heat of the moment has dissipated, they will
discuss the appeal or pardon process. He told the Phnom Penh
Post he expected Sam Rainsy and the government would likely
reach a political settlement allowing Rainsy to return and
avoid prison, as happened in 2006.

8. (SBU) Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Council of
Ministers Quick Reaction Force, said that the courts must be
allowed to do their work independently. He stated that Sam
Rainsy's approach was to "look down upon" the government and
to "confuse the Cambodian people," and that Rainsy's
presentations of the border situation continue to be
inaccurate.

----------------------
Next Steps for the SRP
----------------------

9. (C) The SRP Permanent Committee agreed January 28 to file
an appeal later during the 30-day window, even though the
initial public rhetoric will focus on the inability to secure
justice and the futility of an appeal. Among the core SRP
leadership, there is a realization that the loss of Rainsy's
charisma, his dramatic speaking style, and his ability to
unite will be keenly felt in Cambodia. A strategy to hold
several digital video conferences with Rainsy from France and
assurances of renewed commitment by the party faithful appear
to be attempts to put a brave face on a serious setback.
Some in the SRP worry that Human Rights Party (HRP) President
Kem Sokha is already intent on stealing away SRP members to
the HRP in an attempt to make HRP the "legitimate opposition"
that the CPP knows that it needs. Fissures in the SRP appear
to be emerging with one group of accomplished and publicly
popular parliamentarians such as Son Chhay and Mu Sochua
potentially squared off against an inner circle close to
Rainsy and Tioulong Saumura, Rainsy's spouse and fellow SRP
MP. Some observers see the Rainsy case as an old CPP tactic
to divide and conquer the political opposition and suggest
the CPP tactic is working.

-------
COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) In both the prelude to the hearing and the
reaction to the verdict, the SRP appeared uninterested in
addressing the actual charges of Rainsy's role in property
destruction and incitement, and instead focused on the larger
issue of whether the border markers are improperly placed
(Ref B). Rainsy continues to claim sole responsibility for
the removal of the temporary border markers, despite video
showing he did not physically uproot them but brandished them
for the cameras after others had pulled them up (Ref A).
With the January 27 verdict, Rainsy cannot return to Cambodia
unless he goes to prison or receives a pardon, which requires
agreement of the government. In the meantime, without a
leader present in Cambodia able to project a confident image
and articulate opposition perspectives, the SRP faces tough
decisions about what to do next and the ultimate direction of
their party. In the end, most find it difficult to imagine
how Rainsy's stunt will increase the SRP's political
relevance in Cambodia, despite the headlines it attracted by
Rainsy's very visible and vocal efforts to mobilize
anti-Vietnam passion while most of Cambodia's population was
focused on Thai border issues. However the SRP emerges from
this incident, it is clear that -- at least for now -- the
playing field for opposition politics has been reduced as a
result.
RODLEY

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