PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A court in Cambodia on Tuesday sentenced the country's exiled opposition leader to five years in prison after finding him guilty of conspiring to incite chaos by posting misleading documents on his Facebook page.
The conviction by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court is the latest legal problem for Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The several cases against him are generally considered part of Prime Minister Hun Sen's strategy to weaken his opponents ahead of local elections next year.
Sam Rainsy was found guilty in absentia of conspiracy to incite chaos and using and falsifying public documents. His Facebook page had reposted from a fellow party member several poorly translated documents suggesting that Hun Sen's government had signed a treaty ceding territory to neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia's traditional enemy.
Two opposition party members who maintained the Facebook page for Sam Rainsy were found guilty of the same charges, and also given five-year prison sentences, but with two years suspended. The two are also in exile.
The original poster of the erroneous material, opposition Sen. Hong Sok Hour, was sentenced last month to seven years in prison.
Defense lawyers in Sam Rainsy's trial had argued that the case hinged on a mistranslated document found on the internet for which the defendants were not responsible.
They also said that Sam Rainsy had nothing to do with posting the false information, and routinely allowed his staff to post any interesting material.
In a Facebook posting responding to the verdicts, the opposition leader accused Hun Sen of often using "his puppet court" as a political tool.
He said the court's decision would strengthen his resolve to contest 2017 local elections and the 2018 general election.
Sam Rainsy has been in exile since November last year to avoid a jail term on a defamation conviction that he had believed was covered by a royal pardon.
More recently, he was found guilty of defamation in a separate case for alleging that a senior government official sought to inflate Hun Sen's online popularity by buying "likes" for his Facebook page.
The government in October banned his re-entry from abroad, making it more difficult for him to fight the charges even if he chooses to return.