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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Assembly to rule on MP's legal shield

Assembly to rule on MP's legal shield

THE Permanent Committee of the National Assembly is to meet today to consider suspending the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, in relation to the defamation lawsuit filed against her last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

National Assembly Permanent Committee President Cheam Yeap said a request for the temporary suspension of Mu Sochua's immunity came Friday from Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

"When we have the meeting we will discuss this. This is one of a large number of issues that the committee must resolve," he said, adding that Mu Sochua's immunity would be restored if the court found she was not at fault.  

"This is just a temporary suspension [of her immunity] so that the court has the right to question her directly about the lawsuit."

The move has been criticised by observers who say that, while technically legal, the removal of the lawmaker's protection would raise questions about the independence of the courts.

"The court's request is legal, but I would like to emphasise that the courts in Cambodia nowadays are not independent. This issue is very much bound up with politics," said Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, agreed, saying the abuse of power by the ruling party ran counter to the spirit of the Kingdom's Constitution.

"We are concerned about the suspension of [her] immunity. It doesn't seem to be necessary," he said.

"We should think whether it is necessary and in the interests of the people. When one side has all the power and abuses it, it is contrary to the Constitution."

Hun Sen sued Mu Sochua after she filed her own lawsuit against him for comments made during a speech in Kampot on April 4, when, she said, he insulted her by calling her a cheung klang.

Mu Sochua claimed the Khmer term, meaning "strong legs" in English, has derogatory overtones when used in relation to a woman.

But her lawsuit was dismissed by the Municipal Court on Wednesday, with Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea explaining in a three-page statement that since the prime minister's comments did not refer to Mu Sochua by name, and Hun Sen did not intend to insult any individual with his comments, the suit was not valid.

Mu Sochua told the Post on Sunday that she was unsurprised by the news that she might lose her immunity, claiming her only concern was the reversal of basic democratic rights because of the ruling party's domination of the judicial process.

"I am not worried at all. I just want people to realise that they voted for the CPP to win 90 seats in the National Assembly. But how much justice has the CPP guaranteed for the people? This is not only my story: It is everyone's story," she said.



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