Ministries and state institutions have condemned Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), for allegedly insulting His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni.
The condemnation came in the wake of Rainsy’s claim on Thursday during an interview with Radio Free Asia that King Sihamoni was the “puppet” of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Rainsy claimed that the King was afraid of the prime minister and merely wanted to keep the throne.
“We cannot count on His Majesty if he’s a puppet of Hun Sen’s like he is these days,” Rainsy said.
Reacting to the statement, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Friday sent a letter to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court requesting “the immediate and strictest legal action [against Rainsy] for insulting the King”.
“Rainsy’s words – which were made publicly – have seriously affected the dignity of the sovereign of the Kingdom of Cambodia, who is highly respected and beloved by the people across the country as life itself,” the letter said.
A government legal team, led by Ky Tech, also filed a complaint to the court on Friday requesting it to “review, decide, charge and sentence Sam Rainsy ‘most seriously’ according to the Criminal Code”.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Keo Sothea on Friday charged Rainsy with ‘insulting the king’ according to Article 437 of the Criminal Code.
He ordered the authorities to arrest Rainsy and place him in pre-trial detention to prevent recurrence of the crime.
Many state institutions including the Royal Palace, National Police, Military Police as well as the public expressed their anger over Rainsy’s claim and lauded the legal actions taken against him.
Some sources said Rainsy had committed “treason” as the king is included in the national motto – “Nation, Religion, King”.
“The Military Police supports the legal action taken by the court and is prepared to implement its warrant and all government orders to uphold security and keep social order,” said a Military Police statement.
The Senate issued a statement saying Rainsy’s claims tantamount to “defamation, incitement and a cause for turmoil, chaos and insecurity, and violates Article 7 of the Kingdom’s constitution”.
Reacting to the government’s reactions, Rainsy took to Facebook on Saturday to double down on his criticism against the king. He said there were two types of kings – strong and weak – and the current and the previous king are “different like the land and the sky”.
Despite previously lauding late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s efforts to resolve political and human rights issues, Rainsy said the current king had not helped any “victims of injustice”, such as the victims of land grabbing and detention, among others.
He criticised King Sihamoni again for calling on the people to go to vote before last year’s parliamentary election – from which the CNRP had been barred.
“This kind of king should not be a beloved and respected monarch,” he wrote.
Political analyst Em Sovannara on Sunday said Rainsy’s comment had put an end to any chance he had of a royal pardon.
“He said that and prompted another court complaint. This leaves him with no way to obtain a royal pardon. Secondly, we have a law that allows heads of state to grant a pardon in any case.
“This [law] blocks politicians from finding a middle ground for a resolution. It forces politicians to staunchly confront each other and makes it hard to find a middle ground to walk on,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Rainsy highlighted the King’s lack of authority and his inability to assume his constitutional roles to further expose the overwhelming power of the prime minister.
He said Rainsy may have hoped that in doing so, he could sway Cambodians to exercise their power and overthrow what he perceived as a dictatorship – if and when he returns.
“He shouldn’t have used such loaded terminology to describe the power relationship between the prime minister and our king – terminology which makes his statement a crime of lese majeste against our king,” he said.
In May, Rainsy was sentenced to four years for ‘insulting the king’. That case stemmed from his statement alleging that the king’s letter calling on the people to vote in the July 2018 election was a “forgery or made under duress”.