With SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua currently facing a lawsuit by Prime Minister Hun Sen, international rights organization Human Rights Watch issued a statement Wednesday calling on the government to stop threatening to orchestrate the removal of opposition lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity.
In its statement, Human Rights Watch cites an April 29 speech in which the premier “said it would be ‘as easy as ABC’ to have the parliamentary immunity lifted for Mu Sochua.”
“This is yet another blatant attempt to silence the political opposition,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “By threatening to prosecute opposition members of parliament on bogus charges, Hun Sen shows once again that his goal is elective dictatorship, not a genuinely pluralistic democracy.”
A government spokesman responded Wednesday by accusing Human Rights Watch of getting ahead of itself with its statement, and also claimed that Mr Adams is actively working for the political opposition in Cambodia.
“Human Rights Watch’s statement is a preconception accusation which is misleading the world,” said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, adding that any charges against Ms Mu Sochua or requests for immunity to be stripped would come from the court, not the government.
“Brad Adams is a bogus human rights activist, and he is an international opposition [figure] who is
n underground [member] of the Cambodia opposition,” he said.
Ms Mu Sochua said Wednesday that for now her main concern about being stripped of her immunity is that it might affect her ability to do her job.
“I am afraid that if I lose my immunity, I could not do my work as a parliamentarian; I could not participate in National Assembly sessions,” she said.
The Rights Watch statement came on the eve of today’s scheduled appearance by attorneys for both Mr Hun Sen and Ms Mu Sochua at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to press their respective defamation lawsuits against each other.
Ms Mu Sochua’s suit hinges on an April 4 speech by the prime minister in which he called an unnamed Kampot province woman a derogatory term. The prime minister also claimed that this woman moved to hug an official but then complained about her blouse buttons coming undone. Ms Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for Kampot province, contends that she was the obvious target of Mr Hun Sen’s remarks. Last year, she did complain of a fracas with an RCAF general that led to the unbuttoning of her shirt during an election-campaign argument that apparently turned into a physical altercation.
Mr Hun Sen’s defamation lawsuit was filed as a countersuit to Ms Mu Sochua’s claim, and he is also seeking to have the opposition lawmaker’s attorney, Kong Sam Onn, charged with defamation.
The prime minister’s attorney, former Cambodian Bar Association president Ky Tech, has also filed a complaint with the CBA asking that Mr Kong Sam Onn be temporarily disbarred for supposed “unprofessional conduct”—namely, claiming that his client was correct before the court had decided the matter.
CBA President Chiv Songhak said Wednesday that the bar will dispatch a team of inspectors to investigate Mr Ky Tech’s complaint. That team will submit a report to the CBA’s 19-member Bar Council before making its final decision on whether to suspend Mr Kong Sam Onn. He added that the investigation will be conducted soon, but he said he did not know the exact schedule.
Mr Chiv Songhak said that the Bar Council’s decision would not be biased toward Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is also a member of the bar.
“The bar’s decision will not be biased between Kong Sam Onn and Samdech Hun Sen; they are both the bar’s members,” he said, adding that he could not presently say who he believed was right or wrong in the matter.
However, the CBA has long been dogged by claims of being too close to the government.
In 2004, Mr Ky Tech—now Mr Hun Sen’s lawyer—lost the presidency of the bar in an election but immediately took the matter to court. A few months later the Appeal Court ruled that Mr Ky Tech was the rightful president, but did so following a closed-door hearing and gave no reason for its decision. For two full years the CBA was crippled by the battle over who was the rightful head of the association before Mr Ky Tech definitively retook the presidency in a 2006 vote. Many believed that pressure from the government kept him in his post against the will of the majority of Cambodia’s attorneys.
Under Mr Ky Tech’s presidency, the CBA also granted lifetime admission to the bar to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Cabinet Minister Sok An, despite their lack of legal training. In addition, the Bar Council headquarters was donated to the CBA by Mr Sok An.
Even so, Mr Chiv Songhak insisted that there was no link between the building donation and the lifetime memberships, and that the Bar Council will not be influenced by the government in its investigation of Mr Kong Sam Onn.
Mr Ky Tech said Wednesday that he would go to the court today to answer a deputy prosecutor’s questions but declined to offer further comment, saying he was too busy.