The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday questioned SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua and her attorney Kong Sam Onn over a defamation lawsuit filed against the pair by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The court on Wednesday also questioned Hang Chakra, the editor-in-chief of opposition-affiliated newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, concerning a separate disinformation suit brought against the editor by the government. According to Ms Sochua, Deputy Prosecutor Sok Rouen questioned her for more than three hours, during which time Mr Roeun asked her why she held a press conference before filing her own lawsuit against the prime minister. The deputy prosecutor also asked her if she sent her complaint to non-governmental organizations and whether she had claimed to be representing all Cambodian women in taking her case to court, Ms Sochua said by telephone.
She added that Mr Roeun told her that the prime minister’s lawyer had filed a compliant accusing her of defamation and incitement
that affected the reputation of the government.
In return, Ms Sochua said, she responded that Mr Hun Sen had defamed her in an April 4 speech. It was that nationally broadcast speech that prompted Ms So-
chua’s suit against the premier, who in turn filed a counter def-
amation suit against the SRP lawmaker and her attorney.
In his April 4 speech, the premier did not use any names when he berated a woman in Kampot province. Ms Sochua said Wed-
nesday, however, that she had pointed out to the deputy prosecutor four instances in the prime minister’s speech that made it clear that she was the target of his verbal attack.
“It was very obvious that Sam-
dech Hun Sen referred to me, I have all the evidence, there is no another woman besides me,” Ms Sochua said.
“I told the deputy prosecutor that what I said was only repeating what Samdech Hun Sen said,” she added, referring to the April 23 news conference she held four days before filing her defamation suit. “I didn’t defame anyone,” she said.
Ms Sochua added that there is no law saying that she must file a complaint in court before she speaks to the media.
“This is freedom of expression, I can hold a press conference at anytime,” she added.
“I asked the deputy prosecutor to proceed with the investigation, make charges and open trials,” she continued. “I have no concerns, even if my parliamentarian immunity is lifted.”
Her lawyer, Mr Sam Onn, said he was questioned separately after the deputy prosecutor had finished questioning Ms Sochua.
“The deputy prosecutor asked me, ‘Did I join the press conference and defame Prime Minister Hun Sen,’” Mr Sam Onn said.
“I protected my client Ms So-
chua; I didn’t defame Hun Sen,” he said. “There is nothing wrong because I have protected my client.”
Mr Sam Onn also criticized the court for moving ahead first with the prime minister’s lawsuit against himself and Ms Sochua when it was Ms Sochua’s complaint in court against the premier that set the matter in motion.
“This is a problem of the prosecutor; it is not correct. My client is the victim of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s statement on April 4 and her case must proceed first. There is no justice” he said, calling the premier’s lawsuit “ridiculous.”
“There is no law that [says] victims cannot respond to the abuse. This is freedom of speech,” he said.
Deputy Prosecutor Roeun also participated Wednesday in a third defamation suit involving the government: the questioning of Mr Chakra, who stands accused of disinformation over articles about Cabinet Minister Sok An in the editor’s Khmer Machas Srok newspaper.
The two-hour questioning of the editor was also handled, in part, by Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bun Chea, who is the same court official handling Ms Sochua’s complaint against the prime minister.
A government attorney filed the suit against Mr Chakra following the publication of two articles, one in the April 5-7 edition and one from May 21, that alleged Mr Sok An was fostering a network of questionable officials around him. The April 5-7 article ran with the headline “Hun Sen Has Cracked Down on Bad and Cor-
rupt Officials Who Are Working Around Sok An.”
Mr Chakra has maintained that the articles are accurate and based on sources within the Council of Ministers who were not named in the articles to protect their safety.
Following his appointment at the court Wednesday, Mr Chak-
ra said that the deputy prosecutors had asked him to reveal the identity of those who had made the allegations against Mr Sok An, but that he refused to identify his sources.
“I won’t reveal my sources, even if I have to go to jail,” he said later by telephone.
His paper would run a correction if the government’s attorney asks for it, he said, but the publication will not apologize for the articles.
Mr Chakra added that he feels he has little chance of convincing the deputy prosecutor that he is not in the wrong.
“The court is working under powerful people, I didn’t make any mistakes,” he said.
Mr Roeun said he was too busy to comment when contacted by telephone.
Mr Bun Chea, the deputy prosecutor in charge of Ms Sochua’s complaint against Mr Hun Sen, admitted Tuesday that he had not yet asked the prime minister’s attorney, Ky Tech, to submit himself to questioning over the SRP lawmaker’s lawsuit. Mr Chea said that he had been too busy to summon Mr Tech to the court.
“I will summon him next week,” he said.
When it was pointed out that he apparently had time to question Mr Chakra despite that case being filed two weeks after the Mu Sochua complaint, Mr Bun Chea explained that he was as-
signed to the task by the muni-
cipal prosecutor because Mr Roeun, who is handling the matter, was busy questioning Ms Sochua.
Mr Bun Chea also declined to say why his colleague was al-
ready questioning accused persons in the counter-complaint before anyone had been questioned in the original complaint, referring the question to Mr Roeun.