Citing her lack of defense counsel, SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua refused to answer any questions as she stood trial on Friday for allegedly defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The premier’s lawsuit was originally a countersuit to a complaint filed by Ms Sochua accusing Mr Hun Sen of defaming her in a nationally broadcast speech in April. The premier never named the target of his rebukes in that April 4 speech, but Ms Sochua claimed it was obvious that he was speaking of her. Even so, the Phnom Penh court dropped Ms Sochua’s complaint, but decided to move forward with the prime minister’s counter-claim.
Scores of Ms Sochua’s supporters, SRP President Sam Rainsy and other party lawmakers, journalists and human rights workers packed the Phnom Penh Municipal Court room and its compound Friday morning amid a strong police presence. The scene struck a large contrast to the meager turnout at a separate defamation hearing last week for SRP lawmaker Ho Vann, who did not appear at the court.
“I, Mu Sochua, am here, a lawmaker, a women’s representative who was forced to come to the court without a lawyer,” she told presiding Judge Sem Sakola. “Because any lawyer would not dare to represent me due to fears and pressure, my lawyer has become the victim for representing me,” Ms Sochua continued, referring to her former attorney Kong Sam Onn.
Mr Sam Onn dropped the lawmaker as a client after he was also accused of defamation and faced possible disbarment. Mr Sam Onn apologized to the premier in return for the complaints against him being withdrawn, and vowed to join the CPP.
Ms Sochua told the court that her right to an attorney had been effectively denied. “I stand here for the madam [Judge Sakola] to try when the right to defend myself in court is violated, which is guaranteed by an independent court,” she said. “As a lawmaker that people elected and who is the victim of an insult in public, I demand justice,” she added, telling the judge that she must rule in the case independently without being influenced by anyone.
Judge Sakola said the court was not at fault for Ms Sochua not having a lawyer, because it is not the court’s duty to locate one for a misdemeanor case.
Addressing the court Friday, Mr Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, rejected Ms Sochua’s claim that lawyers were being intimidated, saying the country has about 600 attorneys that she could choose from.
A video was then played of an April 23 news conference held by Ms Sochua to announce her intention to sue Mr Hun Sen for defamation. During that conference Ms Sochua said that the prime minister in his April 4 speech had hurt her as a woman, and by extension all women everywhere.
Following the video, Mr Tech latched on to this statement from Ms Sochua, claiming that the lawmaker had “incited discrimination and hatred on Samdech Hun Sen, turning a personal case into the matters of women in general in Cambodia and the world.”
He also accused the lawmaker of violating the jurisdiction of the courts by publicly making a judgment concerning the premier’s guilt or innocence before the court had ruled in the matter.
Mr Tech demanded that 10 million riel, about $2,500, compensation paid to Mr Hun Sen.
Deputy Prosecutor Sok Kalyan told the judge that there was enough evidence for defamation, saying that Ms Sochua had admitted to holding the press conference and e-mailing a statement to international institutions such as Inter-Parliamentary Union, Global Fund for Women and the Vital Voices.
Mr Kalyan said that Ms Sochua had defamed the premier by generalizing the matter as if it concerned all women.
“The prosecutor’s representative understands that Samdech prime minister had made the speech about one woman, not toward women in the whole country and the world.”
“Mu Sochua said that it affected women in general, but in reality, it is not a fact, it is putting the blame,” he said, adding that the premier also didn’t identify the woman he was talking about in his speech.
The deputy prosecutor said that Ms Sochua had “intended for women in general to have confusion and to hate Samdech Hun Sen.”
Mr Kalyan asked the judge to convict Ms Sochua of defamation and order that her ruling be posted in public places and broadcasted in the media to clear Mr Hun Sen’s name, and that Ms Sochua pay for the expense of doing so.
As the hearing drew to a close, Ms Sochua said that she was “very excited” to see that the judge presiding over her case is a woman.
“I believe that madam judge will make a decision with common sense and high conscience based on what’s in the Constitution and the law,” she said.
Judge Sakola told the courtroom that her decision would be announced on Aug 4.
About 30 women gathered around Ms Sochua after the court wrapped up the two-hour hearing, escorting the lawmaker to her SUV while shouting, “Khmer women!”