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Mu Sochua plans to defy court

SRP lawmaker could be held ‘criminally liable’ if she refuses to pay court-ordered fine.

AS the Supreme Court prepares to issue a final ruling today on defamation charges facing Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmaker Mu Sochua, the politician remains defiant, repeating her earlier stance that she will refuse to pay any fines associated with the case.

In August, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mu Sochua guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered her to pay 16.5 million riels (around US$3,975) in fines and compensation, a verdict that was upheld on appeal in October.

When asked this week whether she expected a similar verdict from the Supreme Court, Mu Sochua described the question as “rhetorical”.

“My earlier stance remains,” she said by email. “I have not committed any crime other than serving my constituency and being accountable to the voters who put their trust on the Sam Rainsy Party. Paying the fine is admitting guilt.”

Mu Sochua was sued by the prime minister after lodging her own lawsuit against him for comments he made during a speech in Kampot in April 2009. The SRP lawmaker, who is currently abroad in the United States, also pledged to return to Cambodia on April 16, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I do not and have never intended to run away, even if the authorities send a fleet of armed police,” she said.

“Instead of silencing the voices of dissidents, the leaders of Cambodia should think harder about the high price that the entire country is paying for this total lack of rule of law and neutral and independent judiciary.”

It is unclear what punishment Mu Sochua will face if she refuses to pay court-sanctioned fines. Government lawyer Ky Tech said the Supreme Court will hear Mu Sochua’s case in absentia, but noted that it was up to the judges to decide on what action to take to enforce their rulings.

“I leave the right for the court because for all decisions made by the court, the court is the enforcer,” he said. “If [the court] orders imprisonment a person must be imprisoned, if it orders them to pay money, they must pay money.”

Run Saray, executive director of Legal Aid of Cambodia, said the law normally allows for a period of 45 days for defendants to lodge an appeal against a court ruling.

However, for Supreme Court decisions, which cannot be appealed, there is no specific article – either in the UNTAC Law or the newly passed Penal Code – specifying how much time can lapse before fines must be paid to the court.

“We have very few cases that go to the Supreme Court,” he said, but added that according to the UNTAC Law, any person disobeying any court would be held “criminally liable”.

Chhoun Chantha, the deputy general prosecutor of the Supreme Court who issued the citation summoning Mu Sochua to appear, declined to comment Tuesday.

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