SRP Lawmaker Mu Sochua will not go to jail for refusing to pay a court fine handed down after she was convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen last year.
Nearly a month after a court-imposed deadline for paying the fine passed, Ms Sochua this week received a letter from Phnom Penh Municipal Court informing her that the fine would be taken from her parliamentary salary.
The decision appears to contradict legal procedures, which stipulate that the court should have jailed Ms Sochua for six months after she failed to pay the roughly $2,125 fine.
The letter signed Monday by Judge Chea Sok Heang informed Ms Sochua that the National Assembly finance department would seize 4,204,899 riel, or about $1,050, every month until the fine is paid off.
“Mu Sochua should not prevent…or prohibit any officials in charge of salary at the National Assembly’s finance department for the rights over the debt that is seized,” Judge Sok Heang wrote.
Ms Sochua said yesterday she would not challenge the court’s decision, saying she felt that she had already proven her point.
“I want to spend time working with the people to do whatever it takes to try and change the justice system, instead of spending more time in court,” she said.
“I took the justice system to trial and the people are the judges. I want it to be concluded that the rule of law is a total farce. There is no such thing as justice for anyone on the wrong side of the government.”
Judge Sok Heang declined to answer questions about Ms Sochua’s case yesterday. Cheam Yeap, CPP lawmaker and chairman of Assembly’s finance and banking commission, said yesterday that the Assembly would enforce the court order when it was received.
In June, the Supreme Court upheld the Phnom Penh court’s August verdict that Ms Sochua was guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen last April. Ms Sochua, the municipal court found, defamed the prime minister by announcing her intention to sue him for defamation after Mr Hun Sen made remarks that Ms Sochua considered insulting and directed at her personally.
Local human rights groups yesterday hailed the court’s decision to take Ms Sochua’s fine from her salary as a best-case scenario for Ms Sochua.
Rupert Abbott, development director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, noted that while the decision may not have been in keeping with the law, it would prevent the issue from dragging on indefinitely.
“I don’t think that the law expressly allows for this [court order] but it does seem like a sensible approach and a positive one,” Mr Abbott said.
“This can now be put behind us. Mu Sochua has proved that she has stood up against the system…and the government can also be commended for not putting her in jail.”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said yesterday that he believed that the decision to keep Ms Sochua out of jail was political.
“I think this is a political calculation…. I think they are doing this because they are concerned that putting her in jail would be a very bad image and the people would blame the courts and the justice system,” Mr Panha said.
By law, Ms Sochua would be disqualified from running for the 2013 national election because of her defamation conviction but National Election Committee Secretary-General Tep Nytha said yesterday that Mu Sochua would be able to stand for election.
“In the case of [Mu Sochua], she has been ordered to pay through the National Assembly. It is okay” for her to stand for election, Mr Nytha said.
Ms Sochua said yesterday that she would continue her work “fighting for justice” regardless of whether she is allowed to run.
“If I cannot stand this time, then I will be standing next time…. I don’t intend to be paralyzed or to lose my voice fighting for women and for equal justice for all Cambodians,” she said.