Critic of Cambodian leader defiant in defamation trial

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A political analyst in Cambodia who faces up to two years in prison and a penalty of half a million dollars in a defamation case brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen took a defiant stance in court Wednesday, demanding that the leader confront him in person.

Kim Sok was arrested in February after giving an interview to U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia that Hun Sen felt implied his government was behind the killing last year of another political analyst and critic of the government, Kem Ley. A person arrested in that killing was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in its first hearing in Kim Sok's case on Wednesday, denied his demand that Hun Sen appear.

The court said it would announce its verdict on Aug. 10.

Rights groups accuse Hun Sen's government of using the courts to harass its critics.

Kim Sok told the court that Hun Sen's presence was necessary so that he could explain why he filed the criminal complaint, which includes a demand for $502,500 in compensation.

After the judge turned down his request to call Hun Sen to testify, Kim Sok and his lawyer sought to walk out of the proceedings, but the judge insisted he stay to answer questions.

Kim Sok remained in the courtroom but refused to communicate with the judge. He rolled up two pieces of paper and stuck them in his ears as a gesture showing he did not want to follow the proceedings.

"This trial is a show trial, a trial arranged solely to satisfy Hun Sen," Kim Sok said after the hearing ended as he waited to be handcuffed and taken away by a guard.

Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech, said he represented the prime minister and there was no need for Hun Sen to personally attend the trial.

Hun Sen is seen as cracking down on the opposition to shore up his party's strength ahead of a general election next year. He has been in power for three decades and has announced his intention not to step down.

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