The government did not formally respond yesterday to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ stinging criticism of the criminal defamation proceedings against SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua.
On Tuesday, UN human rights high commissioner Navi Pillay said in a statement that the Cambodian courts had become “a blunt instrument” to stifle free speech, in reference to Ms Sochua’s recently upheld conviction for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said late Tuesday night that the government would issue a response to Ms Pillay’s statement.
Yesterday, however, government officials were reticent about the UN commissioner’s statement. Mr Siphan referred questions to the Foreign Ministry, while Ek Tha, spokesman for the Quick Reaction Unit at the Office of the Council of Ministers, declined to comment. Khieu Kanharith, Information Minister and government spokesman, did not answer questions sent to him by e-mail and could not be reached by telephone.
The government’s apparent silence in the face of the UN statement comes less than a week after the Foreign Ministry wrote a warning letter to the head of the UN human rights office in Cambodia, Christophe Peschoux. The letter was sent a day after Mr Peschoux commented publicly on the deportation of Two Thai bomb suspects, which he said took place without proper legal procedures being observed. Mr Peschoux was warned his position in Cambodia could be under threat if he made further statements regarding what the government considers “sovereign” matters.
The only comments made by a government official about Ms Pillay’s statement yesterday came from the Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, who in what he called an “oral statement,” rejected the UN’s criticism.
“The government absolutely rejects the statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Mr Kuong said. “The defamation case is related to the internal affairs of Cambodia.”
Mr Kuong said he hoped people would recognize that “defamation is different to freedom of expression.” He also said he did not think Ms Pillay’s statement would effect the relationship between the government and the UN human rights council.
“Right now, I do not think there is any problem,” he said, adding that the Foreign Ministry had not yet decided whether it would issue a written response to the UN rights chief.
Ms Sochua, who could face jail if she fails to pay a court fine this week for defaming the premier, said yesterday that she was waiting to see the government’s official reaction to the statement.
“We are anxious to know the thoughts and reactions of the government,” she said. “In the past, they have been very critical of the UN or any organizations [that are critical of them].”
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the SRP will today make public a letter they intend to send to King Norodom Sihamoni, requesting he use his constitutional power to pardon Mu Sochua and investigate the lack of independence in the judiciary.