ANEW legal analysis has condemned the defamation case against opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua as unfair, calling for a campaign to fix what it calls the “broken Cambodian legal system”.
The analysis, released yesterday by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, details the recent court proceedings against the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, who was convicted last year of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Rupert Abbott, CCHR’s director of development, said her conviction was the direct result of an imbalance of power in Cambodian politics.
“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,” he said.
The defamation charge was first laid against Mu Sochua after she sued Hun Sen for what she called defamatory comments delivered publicly in April 2009.
Her case was thrown out of court on the grounds that the premier did not refer to her by name in his speech. But in August, Phnom Penh Municipal
Court convicted Mu Sochua of defaming Hun Sen and ordered her to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,928) in fines and compensation. The Appeal Court and Supreme Court both upheld the decision.
Mu Sochua now faces further court action and possible imprisonment for refusing to pay the court-ordered fines.
The CCHR report released yesterday cites the “intimidation” of Mu Sochua’s lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, who resigned amid allegations of unprofessional behaviour, and a “heavy political bias within the judiciary” as symptoms of a court system that fails to uphold the rights of its citizens.
The analysis states that the court refused to allow Mu Sochua to choose an attorney to replace Kong Sam Onn. Though she was “theoretically able to seek a new lawyer”, it states, “she was effectively prevented from being represented by the lawyer of her choosing.”
Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit, said the court did allow Mu Sochua to have a lawyer, but that she had opted to defend herself. “The process of Mu Sochua’s case was decided legally and by procedure,” he said. “So Mu Sochua should respect and follow the court’s decision.”
For her part, Mu Sochua has repeatedly refused to pay fines levied against her, saying that she would rather go to jail than give in to what she sees as an unjust and biased judiciary.
“We have to stop living in fear,” she said yesterday.
“I am ready to face whatever actions that the courts will take. Whatever it takes, I will face it. But I will not pay the fine.”