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UN rights chief lashes courts

THE United Nations’ top human rights official has expressed “serious” concerns about legal proceedings against opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, a UN spokesman said yesterday.

“The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, is seriously concerned about the conduct of recent defamation proceedings against a prominent opposition politician in Cambodia,” UN spokesman Rupert Colville said during a biweekly briefing in Geneva.

“We believe this highly politicised case appears to show an alarming erosion of both freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary in Cambodia.”

In August last year, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered her to pay a total of 16.5 million riels (around US$3,928) in fines and compensation. The charges were filed against Mu Sochua after she sued Hun Sen over comments he made during a speech the previous April.

After the Appeal and Supreme Courts rejected appeals to overturn the verdict, Mu Sochua was given until earlier this month to pay the court-ordered fines and compensation. She now faces further court action – and possibly imprisonment – for refusing to pay.

In his briefing, Colville said prosecutors had offered “no evidence proving either damage to reputation or malicious intent” in Mu Sochua’s case.
He added that the courts relied on correspondence between Mu Sochua and the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Global Fund for Women to suggest bad faith on her part.

“The high commissioner believes it is totally unacceptable under any circumstances that a letter to the IPU or any other international or intergovernmental organisation should be seen as a reprehensible act and be used as evidence in court proceedings,” he stated.

“Mu Sochua now stands on the verge of imprisonment for merely exercising her legal right to express her view that she was defamed and her intention to seek a legal remedy.”

He said the Cambodian court system has been used as “a blunt instrument to silence freedom of expression”.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the concerns, saying he was “very sorry” to hear Colville’s comments.

“The report does not represent the truth in Cambodia,” he said. UN officials “should come to see the reality in Cambodia rather than sitting in the air-conditioning down there and making their judgment”.

He said Mu Sochua’s case had “nothing to do with the government and nothing to do with politics” and was carried out by independent judges.

“It doesn’t mean that all decisions judges make are right … but with the rule of law we have to respect the judge’s decision,” he said.

Mu Sochua “has to comply with the judgment.”



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