A court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has convicted opposition leader Sam Rainsy of defaming Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Mr. Rainsy was fined and sentenced in absentia to eighteen months in prison. The charges against him have been denounced by nongovernmental organizations as politically motivated.
Mr. Rainsy had accused the government of involvement in a 1997 attack on an anti-government rally in which at least sixteen Cambodians were killed and more than a hundred others injured. He also accused Prince Ranariddh of accepting bribes in exchange for forming a coalition government with the ruling Cambodian People's party.
Normally, members of Cambodia's parliament are immune from arrest. But the government-controlled parliament removed Mr. Rainsy's immunity in February. He fled Cambodia and is now in France, along with two other opposition party parliamentarians.
Mu Sochua, another member of Cambodia's parliament, says by convicting Sam Rainsy, the Cambodian judiciary is removing any chance for him to participate fully in national elections which are to be held in 2008:
"It would prevent Rainsy, the leader of the opposition, to have a complete role, presence for the campaign towards the election. This would impair the election."
"No one in any country," says Brad Adams, director of the independent monitoring group Human Rights Watch, "should face jail for the peaceful criticism of a country's leaders. Trials like these," he said, "are especially dangerous in Cambodia, where the courts are controlled by the government."
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that the U.S. "remains concerned about the continuing deterioration of democratic principles such as free speech and expression in Cambodia." Mr. Rainsy's conviction, he says, "is further evidence of this unfortunate trend."
The United States "call[s] on the political leadership of the Royal Cambodian government to allow all citizens to express their views peacefully without fear of retribution or intimidation" says Mr. McCormack. "These rights," he said," are protected in the Cambodian constitution as well as international human rights agreements to which Cambodia is a party."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.