Mu Sochua Verdict: Another blow to Cambodian Democracy

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

August 4, 2009 - LICADHO condemns this morning's court verdict convicting opposition MP Mu Sochua of defamation and ordering her to pay a total of 16.5 million riel (US$4100) in fines and compensation.

"This verdict is a significant blow to freedom of expression and will have serious ramifications on the ability of National Assembly members to publicly speak their minds," said LICADHO director Naly Pilorge. "It is yet another example of the perilous state of democratic freedoms in Cambodia."

Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) MP for Kampot province, was convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and ordered to pay 8.5 million riel in fines and 8 million riel in compensation to Hun Sen. Mu Sochua was tried on July 24 but the verdict was delayed until today.

The Prime Minister filed a defamation lawsuit against Mu Sochua in response to her attempting to sue him for defamation for comments he made during a public speech in April. The court threw out Mu Sochua's lawsuit against the Prime Minister but proceeded with his counter-suit against her.

"For daring to try to file a complaint against the Prime Minister, Mu Sochua has herself been dragged to court and convicted of defamation in a grossly unfair trial," said Naly Pilorge.

"This morning's verdict was predictably unjust, and shows yet again how the courts are controlled by the government and used as a weapon against its political opponents,” continued Pilorge.

“There has been one injustice after another in this case against Mu Sochua, including the fact that she had no legal representation at her trial after her lawyer was intimidated into withdrawing from the case."

The verdict was announced this morning by Judge Sem Sakola at a court session which was closed to the public. While foreign embassies and some other international observers were permitted to attend, journalists and NGO workers were barred from the courtroom. Under Cambodian law, verdicts are supposed to be read in public.

In addition to the restriction on entry to the courtroom, LICADHO also deplores the intimidation and violence committed by police against Mu Sochua and SRP supporters, as well as journalists and other independent observers, following the announcement of the verdict.

While Mu Sochua was speaking to media outside of the courtroom after the verdict, police forcibly pushed journalists away from her. As Sochua, party president Sam Rainsy and other SRP National Assemby MPs then proceeded to march along the streets back to the party headquarters from the court, police attempted to violently disperse the impromptu march.

Anti-riot police repeatedly tried to drag participants away from the peaceful march, and several marchers were pushed or fell to the ground. Police also beat or kicked several other marchers. Two men were arrested during one of the police’s attempts to violently disperse the crowd of marchers; one of the men, as he was being led away by police, was kicked in the groin by a policeman.

LICADHO is also extremely disturbed by the fact that police officers repeatedly directed cars, motorcycles and even a bus to drive through the marchers, in an obvious attempt to create a traffic accident which could have led to serious injury or worse.

"The police were essentially trying to use the traffic as a weapon, in order to get a marcher run over,” said Pilorge. “Repeatedly, the police stopped the traffic as the marchers were approaching an intersection and then, just as they entered the intersection, waved the traffic forward. It was only by luck that no-one was injured.”

For more information, please contact:
 Ms. Pilorge Naly, Director of Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), 012 803 650

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer