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Cambodia: Case Against Legislator Criticized

(July 16, 2010) On July 13, 2010, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) released a report on the August 2009 case before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against opposition legislator Mu Sochua. The analysis described the defamation case as unfair and emblematic of the “broken Cambodian legal system.” (Jake Schoneker & Meas Sokchea, CCHR Slams 'Broken” Judiciary, THE PHNOM PENH POST (July 14, 2010),

Sochua was convicted of defaming Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, after Sochua attempted unsuccessfully to sue Hun Sen for defamatory comments he made in April 2009. In those remarks he referred to the unbuttoning of Sochua's blouse and made another reference of a sexual nature. Sochua's case was turned down by the court on the grounds that she had not been referred to by name in the Prime Minister's speech, and she lost her parliamentary immunity. (Id.; Defamation Case against Cambodian Opposition Politician Sparks UN Concern, UN NEWS CENTRE (July 13, 2010),

Sochua's own trial, after which she was ordered to pay fines and compensation in the amount of 16.5 million riels (about US$3,870), was described by CCHR as unbalanced and political. “The fact is that the judges involved directly in her case and the authorities in those courts are high-ranking members of the Cambodian People's Party,” said CCHR officer Rupert Abbott. (Id.) The decision against Sochua was upheld in two appeals. Sochua refused to pay the fine, arguing that the judiciary in Cambodia is unjust and biased, and she therefore faces further charges. (THE PHNOM PENH POST, supra.)

The CCHR report also argued that Sochua was “effectively prevented from being represented by the lawyer of her choosing” after her attorney, Kong Sam Onn, resigned. The Cambodian Council of Ministers' Press and Quick Reaction Unit disputed this interpretation of events, however, claiming that Sochua had decided to defend herself. According to official spokesman Tith Sothea, “[t]he process of Mu Sochua's case was decided legally and by procedure. So Mu Sochua should respect and follow the court's decision.” (Id.)

The case has raised the concerns of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who referred to the situation as showing an “alarming” deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Cambodia. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)