A bitter year-long legal wrangle between Prime Minister Hun Sen and SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua will reach its final stage tomorrow, when the Supreme Court hears Ms Sochua’s appeal against her conviction for defamation handed down against her last August.
Ms Sochua’s final bid to overturn the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict that she defamed Mr Hun Sen—by suing him for defamation last April—will be heard at 8 am.
Over the past few days, SRP members have attempted to promote the trial by distributing fliers to the media and at markets around the capital, encouraging ordinary citizens to attend the Supreme Court hearing.
The message on the fliers states: “Come all. Come early.”
In an interview at SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday, Ms Sochua confirmed previous statements she has made, saying that if the Supreme Court upholds the verdict against her, she would not pay any fine imposed and was willing to go to jail for her cause.
“My position is the same,” she said. “I do not fear jail.”
Ky Tech, Mr Hun Sen’s lawyer, said yesterday that he believed he had enough evidence to show that Ms Sochua had defamed his client, but added that the final decision would be left to the Supreme Court’s judges.
“I cannot say whether the premier will win or not, because the judges will decide this case,” he said.
The legal battle between the opposing political heavyweights began on April 4 last year when the prime minister made a nationally broadcast speech in which he referred to an unnamed woman from Kampot province as a “cheung klang” or “strong legs,” which is considered derogatory when used to describe a woman.
A few weeks later on April 23, Ms Sochua—a lawmaker representing Kampot province—announced her intention to sue Mr Hun Sen at a press conference, saying she felt the context of the premier’s speech had made it clear that he had been referring to her. At the press conference, Ms Sochua said that the term used by the premier had hurt her as a woman and, by default, all women.
Mr Hun Sen immediately countersued for defamation, claiming that both Ms Sochua and her then-lawyer Kong Sam Onn, who attended the press conference, had defamed him by saying they would file a lawsuit alleging the premier had defamed the SRP lawmaker.
Mr Hun Sen later dropped his lawsuit against Mr Sam Onn, after the lawyer wrote a letter to the premier, apologizing for his actions. At the same time as his apology to Mr Hun Sen, Mr Sam Onn stepped down as Ms Sochua’s lawyer and also applied to become a member of the ruling CPP.
Ms Sochua’s case against the prime minister was dismissed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in June, while the premier’s countersuit went ahead at a hearing on July 24.
At the hearing, presided over by Judge Sem Sakola, the premier’s lawyer Mr Tech claimed that Ms Sochua 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.”
On Aug 4, the municipal court found Ms Sochua guilty of defaming the premier and ordered her to pay about $4,100 in fines and compensation.
The decision against the SRP lawmaker was upheld by the Court of Appeal in October-leaving an appeal to the Supreme Court as the last option open to her under Cambodia’s judicial system.
Ms Sochua said yesterday she believed that her trial would give the judiciary a chance to prove it is independent of party politics.
“I am of the strong belief that the nine members of the council will weigh the political, social and even economic impacts of their decision,” she said.
“I think if this is the case that provides me with justice, then it can help give Cambodians an image that the court can actually be independent.
“It would give more trust to investors and more trust to the people.”
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that it would not be possible to comment about whether Ms Sochua would receive a fair trial until after the trial took place.
Speaking generally, however, Mr Sam Oeun said he acknowledged that the Cambodian court system was not perfect.
“For me, I do not have certainty that they are 100 percent fair and independent,” he said.
Mr Tech said yesterday that if the Supreme Court upheld the original verdict and Ms Sochua continued to refuse to pay fines or damages, he would apply for the court to take action. He added, however, that he did not know what action the court would take.
Under article 524 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a person found guilty by a criminal court can be imprisoned if they fail to pay a court-imposed fine or award for compensation or damages.
According to the code, a $4,100 fine-as previously handed down to Ms Sochua in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court-could attract a one-year jail term.
Asked yesterday how she could play an effective role as a parliamentarian if she was placed in jail, Ms Sochua went quiet.
“The cause will still be alive,” she said, blinking back tears.
“This is about the cause-it is not about me. I believe that there will be people taking the cause everyday to the prime minister and to the public to get me out.”
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)