Prime Minister Hun Sen will file a counter defamation lawsuit against Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today in response to a defamation lawsuit the opposition politician has said she will file against the premier, the government spokesman said Sunday.
Ms Mu Sochua had initially said that she would file her defamation suit against the prime minister on Friday, but did not do so. On Sunday, she said her complaint would definitely be taken to the court today.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Prime Minister Hun Sen feels he has to take action, now that he is facing a potential lawsuit.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] could not remain silent; otherwise people would assume that Samdech has defamed her. Samdech will file a defamation lawsuit against her on Monday,” Mr Khieu Kanharith said by telephone Sunday.
Government lawyer Pol Chandara confirmed that he would file the lawsuit but declined to say exactly when he would do so.
Ms Mu Sochua announced Thursday that she would file a defamation lawsuit against Mr Hun Sen for remarks the premier made in Kampot province on April 4. In that nationally broadcast speech, the prime minister said he wouldn’t help any villagers who side with the opposition. He then went on to call an unnamed woman a “cheung klang,” which literally means “strong legs” but can be taken as a derogatory term. He also said that during the 2008 election campaign the unnamed woman had hugged someone but later complained that her blouse had been unbuttoned by force.
Though the premier never used her name, the remarks appeared to be a reference to Ms Mu Sochua, who was running as lawmaker candidate in Kampot in the July 2008 election. During the campaign ahead of that election, the SRP politician accosted an RCAF officer who was campaigning on behalf of the CPP while using a state vehicle. An altercation ensued during which, Ms Mu Sochua has claimed, the officer wrenched her arm, causing her blouse buttons to come undone. The matter has since been taken to court.
Mr Khieu Kanharith on Sunday once again denied that the prime minister had been referring to Ms Mu Sochua in his remarks.
“Samdech did not refer to Mu Sochua. He was talking about another woman, because [this other woman] is rude. That is why Samdech named her as Her Excellency. Mu Sochua thought that Her Excellency is only her,” he said.
He added that the prime minister decided to file his own defamation suit because Ms Mu Sochua publicly announced her intention to sue at a news conference and allegedly encouraged “foreign NGOs” to condemn the premier.
“Mu Sochua has gathered foreign NGOs to attack the prime minister,” he said, adding that Mr Hun Sen has received a number of critical letters as a result.
Reached for comment Sunday, Ms Mu Sochua rejected the government’s position that the premier had been referring to a different woman.
“I believe he referred to me even though he didn’t say my name,” she said. “In Kampot, there was only one woman during the election campaign who had a court case…. He doesn’t have to mention me by my name; he was talking in the context of the opposition party.”
“The court must provide justice for all,” she added.
Even if both sides file their complaints as promised today, the court cannot prosecute either Mr Hun Sen or Ms Mu Sochua because, as lawmakers for Kandal and Kampot respectively, they both enjoy parliamentary immunity. For the court to proceed, a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly is required to strip that immunity away, according to the Constitution.
The CPP holds more than two-thirds of Assembly seats, but Mr Khieu Kanharith declined to comment on how lawmakers might proceed if they receive a request from the court.
Ms Mu Sochua said that if the National Assembly does vote to remove her immunity, the Assembly must also take away the prime minister’s immunity.
“He must dare to face the court,” she said.
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said she did not believe that the lawsuits would benefit either side.
“I am sad; there should not be lawsuits. They should work together to promote women’s rights,” she said. “It will be a loss for the country. I do not want to see any lawsuit.”
Adhoc director Thun Saray agreed, saying that the two parties should resolve the case outside the court system because it is a strictly political matter. “When two elephants fight, it is complicated,” he said, adding that he doubted that the court could resolve so touchy a political issue.