The Appeal Court upheld SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua’s conviction for defamation yesterday, and ordered her to comply with the $4,100 fine handed to her by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August.
The courtroom was crowded with reporters and NGO representatives yesterday as the opposition politician stood without legal representation and refused to answer a judge’s questions about her conviction for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I did not have a lawyer in municipal court and at this time, I don’t have one either. I decline to comment because I don’t have a representative,” Ms Sochua told the court. “This doesn’t mean that I don’t trust in lawyers, but I don’t want them to be under political pressure.”
When the SRP lawmaker entered into dueling defamation suits with Mr Hun Sen in April, she was represented by lawyer Kong Sam Onn. Mr Sam Onn, however, dropped Ms Sochua as his client and promised to join the prime minister’s ruling CPP after he faced his own defamation suit, lodged by the prime minister’s lawyer, and possible disbarment after a complaint was lodged, also by the premier’s lawyer.
Before announcing that he was upholding the municipal court’s verdict yesterday, Appeal Court Judge Seng Sivutha scolded Ms Sochua for her address to the court. “What kind of press conference are you carrying out?” he asked.
Speaking by telephone after the hearing, Ms Sochua said that she would appeal the court’s decision to the Supreme Court.
“I will appeal. I won’t pay,” she said. “I feel regret for all Khmer people…. This conviction was carried out with political interference.”
Ky Tech, Mr Hun Sen’s lawyer, described the Appeal Court’s decision as “justice for Samdech Hun Sen.”
“Both the procedure and the decision were done in accordance with the law. Look for yourself if the courts have made any mistakes; as journalists can see, both courts made the same ruling,” Mr Tech said, adding he would represent Mr Hun Sen if the case reaches the Supreme Court.
He also denied allegations of political pressure on Mr Sam Onn. “Speaking in public without evidence is not right, as we are both people who have knowledge of the law,” Mr Tech said. “She is a lawmaker, a law professional, and just speaking off the cuff like this, I cannot accept it,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, a senior humanrights monitor for Licadho who attended the hearing, said later that justice was not properly served because Ms Sochua did not have a lawyer to defend her.
“I regret that there was no battle between both sides. It seems like a part of justice is missing,” Mr Sam Ath said.
Adhoc monitor Chan Soveth said by telephone after the hearing that the decision was proof that powerful people will always win over powerless people in the country’s judicial system.
“Mu Sochua is a Lok Chum Teav, so what happens when it is poor people?” he asked. “The verdict was upheld; it is just the same thing over again. Mostly, the powerful win while the weak lose.”
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union adopted a resolution on Oct 21 expressing “deep concern” about the stripping of Ms Sochua’s immunity, as well as her conviction at the municipal court. The international body of parliamentary governments sent an observer to her trial in July.
The IPU stated in its resolution that it “cannot share the arguments put forward by the authorities to prove the fairness of the trial,” and noted that, “the judge, who is bound to seek the truth, has to examine arguments not only in favor of the prosecution but also in favor of defendants, whether or not defendants present such evidence.”
(Additional reporting by Bethany Lindsay)