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Sochua in legal limbo

Sochua in legal limbo

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SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua (left) speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh in January.

Outspoken opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua could remain without her parliamentary immunity for up to five years, according to a leaked letter from the Ministry of Justice, drawing criticisms from legal experts who say her immunity should have been restored already.

In a January 28 letter to the National Assembly, Long Phol, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, stated that Mu Sochua could have her immunity restored in two ways.

She can either lodge a request with the Appeal Court a year after her punishment is completed, or wait for the immunity to be restored automatically, five years after the completion of her punishment.

“The restoration of lawmaker Mu Sochua’s immunity depends on the consideration of the parliament conforming to the consciousness of the law on lawmaker’s conditions, parliament’s internal order and the penal procedure code,” read the letter, a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Post.

Mu Sochua’s immunity was suspended in 2009 to allow her prosecution in a defamation case brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Her highly publicised legal battle with the premier started in April of that year, when she filed a defamation suit against him in relation to comments he allegedly made about her during a speech in Kampot province.

The premier countersued and the court ruled against her, ordering her to pay 16.5 million riels (US$4,084) in fines and compensation.

Though Mu Sochua refused to pay – saying she was willing to go to jail if necessary – the court issued an order authorising the docking of her salary for four months.

The entire amount was eventually paid off by this method in November.

When contacted today, Mu Sochua said that she did not understand the contents of the letter, a copy of which she received from the National Assembly.

“I looked at the law and I let legal experts look at, and they do not know how to explain it,” she said.

“The court convicted like this, unjustly like this, and the law is vague like this, I don’t know what more to do.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that there was no legal reason for Mu Sochua to wait for the restoration of her immunity since she had paid her fines in full.

“If punishment was completed, restore her immunity,” Sok Sam Oeun said.

Sok Sam Oeun drew a comparison with somebody jailed for five years for a crime.

He said that person would not need to request release, since they would be released automatically at the completion of their term.

“I don’t know, I don’t understand,” he added.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, agreed that if the court has docked her salary already, her immunity must be restored immediately.

“There has never been anyone whose immunity has been lifted and delayed one year or five years,” he said.

Cheam Yeap, a senior lawmaker for the Cambodian People’s Party, said Mu Sochua’s case was minor and that her immunity would be restored in November 2011, a year after the completion of her punishment. He added that the delay was in conformity with the law.

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