SAM Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua maintained Thursday that she will not pay 16.5 million riels (US$3,937) in penalties imposed on her after she was found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen, even if her defiance risks landing her in jail.
Speaking ahead of today's deadline to hand over the cash, Mu Sochua said that it is she - not the prime minister - who is the victim following a round of lawsuits that has drawn sharp criticism from the international community, which has accused the government of using the courts to silence political dissent.
"My stance is the same. I will not pay. If I pay the fine, it means I agree to recognise my mistake. Even if I was imprisoned, I would not pay," Mu Sochua told the Post from New York, where she is receiving medical attention.
Mu Sochua was convicted August 4 of defaming Hun Sen and ordered by Phnom Penh Municipal Court to pay 8.5 million riels in fines and 8 million riels in compensation to the prime minister, who said that her defamation accusations against him damaged his reputation.
The conflict stemmed from a speech Hun Sen gave in Kampot province in April, during which Mu Sochua said he made derogatory references to her, prompting her to file defamation charges.
The premier said that he never referred specifically to Mu Sochua in his comments, and his lawyers countersued. Mu Sochua's case was dismissed June 10 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Mu Sochua said that to pay the fine would be an admission of guilt.
She also questioned the premier's motivation, pointing out that he did not file his lawsuit until after she had lodged her own legal complaint.
"Hun Sen did not complain the first time this was raised," she said. "He only raised his complaint against me when I held a press conference to complain about him. If he wasn't speaking about me, who was he speaking about?
"He should admit his mistake, but instead of doing so, he continues [to exacerbate the problem]. Who created the problem in the first place?" she added. "He should be open about who he was speaking about. I'm a woman; I need my reputation. No other country in the world would say something that impacts female parliamentarians."
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party backed Mu Sochua's decision to defy the court ruling. "She has said that she will not pay [the fine and compensation to Hun Sen]. She is the victim here," he said.
Chan Soveth, an investigating official with human rights group Adhoc, said it was wrong of Mu Sochua to refuse to pay, but that the courts should first prove that she was guilty. "I need law enforcement for all people," he said.
Last month, the Court of Appeal postponed a hearing on the dismissal of Sochua's lawsuit against the prime minister due to her absence from the court.
Hun Sen's lawyer Ky Tech said Thursday he did not wish to comment until after the hearing. "Let the Appeal Court decide first and ... then we may [rethink our strategy]," he said.
Mu Sochua is due to return to Cambodia on September 23.