Prime Minister Hun Sen and SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua on Monday filed defamation complaints against each other at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, according to officials.
The premier’s attorney, former Cambodian Bar Association president Ky Tech, said by telephone that he had filed a defamation suit against Ms Mu Sochua and an unspecified number of “accomplices” whom he declined to identify.
“I asked the court to get 10 million riel compensation from each person,” Mr Ky Tech said by telephone. “I have written the case up for the court so the court can consider charging her,” he added, before declining further comment.
In contrast to the nearly $2,500 being sought by the prime minister, Ms Mu Sochua is seeking a token 500 riel in damages from Mr Hun Sen. Her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, said he had turned his client’s complaint over to the municipal court on Monday morning.
“I have filed a defamation and insult lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen and demanded 500 riel in compensation,” he said by telephone, but added that he did not have high hopes that the court would side with his client.
“I have very little hope for this case. If the court dares to provide justice we will succeed…. But the court might think the defendant [the prime minister] is the boss, so it is difficult as the court’s independence is still in question,” he said.
Prak Savouth, the chief clerk for the municipal prosecutors’ office, confirmed Monday that the court had received the prime minister’s complaint, but said he had then left the office and was not sure of the status of Ms Mu Sochua’s filing.
The dueling complaints stem from a speech given by the prime minister in Kampot province at the beginning of the month. In that April 4 address Mr Hun Sen attacked the opposition and followed up his remarks by calling an unnamed prominent woman in the province a “cheung klang,” which literally means “strong legs,” but when applied to a woman can mean a prostitute. He then went on to say that an unnamed woman had hugged someone during the 2008 election campaign but then complained about her shirt being forceably unbuttoned.
Though the premier never mentioned anyone by name, Ms Mu Sochua, who is a lawmaker for Kampot, believes the comments were directed at her. Ahead of last year’s national poll, an election dispute between Ms Mu Sochua and RCAF general San Sman allegedly led to a physical struggle that resulted in her blouse being torn open. The matter is before the courts.
On Monday, the opposition lawmaker said she had no choice but to sue the prime minister to protect her reputation.
“I am a lawmaker and he abused my dignity,” she said, adding that at this point she has little choice but to wait and see how the court will act.
Ms Mu Sochua also raised the issue of parliamentary immunity, a constitutionally guaranteed protection granted to lawmakers that currently makes it impossible for the court to prosecute either her or the prime minister, who is a lawmaker for Kandal province. The court can request for that immunity to be revoked, which requires a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly. At present, more than two thirds of the assembly’s lawmakers are from the prime minister’s ruling CPP.
“If the court strips my immunity the court must also strip Samdech Hun Sen’s immunity,” Ms Mu Sochua said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Monday, but has previously claimed that the prime minister was not speaking about Ms Mu Sochua in his speech. He has not revealed whom the premier supposedly was talking about.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed that the premier filed his lawsuit with the court Monday, but declined to comment when asked if Mr Hun Sen was speaking about Ms Mu Sochua in his April 4 address.