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A tense trial for Mu Sochua

SRP President Sam Rainsy (left) and SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court Friday.

Heated exchanges in courtroom are accompanied by scuffles between MP's supporters and security during high-profile case.

FRIDAY'S three-hour trial of opposition member of parliament Mu Sochua provoked tension both inside and outside the courtroom, with physical altercations between the lawmaker's supporters and security officials in the hallway of Phnom Penh Municipal Court and heated rhetoric during the actual proceedings.

As she arrived at the court to answer to defamation charges filed against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Mu Sochua described her case as a "struggle" that affected "the soul of all strugglers who struggle for justice".

The charges stemmed from an April speech given by Hun Sen, during which he referred to an unnamed woman as cheung klang, a term meaning "strong legs" that is viewed by some as derogatory when used to describe women. The speech prompted Mu Sochua to file a defamation suit.

Hun Sen denied that he had been referring to her and countersued her for defamation, pointing to an April 23 press conference in which she made her suit public. Mu Sochua's case was thrown out, whereas the premier was allowed to proceed with his.

Once inside the courtroom, Mu Sochua accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party of depriving her of legal representation. Her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, opted out of the case after a defamation suit and bar complaint were filed against him.

"No lawyer would dare to represent me because of the fears and the pressure," she said. "My lawyer has become the victim for representing me."

She declined to respond to questions during the hearing.

In his presentation to Judge Sem Sakola, government lawyer Ky Tech accused Mu Sochua of encouraging people to direct "discrimination and hatred" towards Hun Sen.

Deputy Prosecutor Sok Kalyan said Mu Sochua's attempt to paint Hun Sen's comments as insulting to all women was a misleading ploy to "put the blame" on the premier.

"Samdech [Hun Sen] had made the speech about one woman, not towards women in the whole country and the world," he said. "Mu Sochua said that it affected women in general, but it is not a fact."

Sem Sakola said she would deliver a verdict August 4.

SRP scuffle
Before Mu Sochua's arrival, politicians, supporters, journalists and observers gathered outside the Municipal Court building, some of them holding candles as a part of an SRP-led demonstration of solidarity with the lawmaker.

After some of the candle-holding supporters moved into the building, police tried to confiscate the candles, saying they had been instructed to do so by their superiors.

Some members of the group resisted, including SRP lawmaker Chea Poch, who said, "You are police, you should not be doing this."

The exchange led to a brief shoving match in the hallway of the courthouse, though no injuries were sustained.



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