Ahead of Cambodia’s 2018 elections, exiled opposition leader of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy, has been on Tuesday jailed for a fake Facebook post pledging to dissolve the Southeast Asian country’s border with Vietnam.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was jailed alongside two of his social media team members.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Sam Rainsy and the two members of the social media team, Ung Chung Leang and Sathya Sambath, guilty of citing a false 1979 border treaty.
The fake treaty, which they posted on Facebook, purported to show Vietnam and Cambodia agreeing to get rid of their mutual boundary.
While Sam Rainsy was sentenced to a five years jail term in prison by presiding Judge Leang Samnath, Ung Chung Leang and Sathya Sambath were both sentenced to three years in prison, all in absentia.
“The court orders the arrests of Ung Chung Leang, Sathya Sambath and Sam Rainsy to serve these sentences,” Judge Leang Samnath told the court.
The sentence is following months of tension between Cambodia’s two main political parties, the Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the opposition CNRP.
Hun Sen has been Cambodia’s leader for three decades but his grip on power was shaken in a 2013 general election when the CNRP won 55 seats in the National Assembly, leaving the Cambodian People’s Party with 68 seats in the 123-seat assembly.
Members of the opposition have complained of a crackdown by the government and its allies in a bid to intimidate critics before a general election in 2018.
Cambodia has fretted for centuries about its much bigger neighbours, Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the northwest, encroaching on its territory. The issue remains emotive and many Cambodians are suspicious of both countries.
Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a separate defamation case. He did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday but said on Twitter the case against him and the two others had been “fabricated” by a “kangaroo court”.
— Rainsy Sam (@RainsySam) December 26, 2016
“Freedom of expression exists in any democratic society. This ruling confirms that it does not exist in Cambodia,” Sam Rainsy said with one of his tweets.
— Rainsy Sam (@RainsySam) December 27, 2016