SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua was found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen last year and lost two subsequent appeals against the decision. She narrowly missed being sent to jail and will have more than $4,000 docked from her parliamentary salary. It is not yet certain that she will be able to stand at the 2013 national election.
But despite the appearance that she lost the court war against Mr Hun Sen, civil society organizations said yesterday that picking a winner from the 15-month case was not such an easy task.
Ms Sochua’s 15-month court battle finally drew to a close this week when Phnom Penh Municipal Court said it would deduct a roughly $2,125 fine from her salary instead of placing her in jail for her refusal to pay.
Koul Panha, the executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said yesterday that Ms Sochua’s personal profile had skyrocketed during the case and that she had obtained substantial coverage of her cause in a country that rarely hears opposition voices.
“Her case became a kind of highlight debate among Cambodian people,” Mr Panha said. “I think that at the very least, she has increased the amount of attention for herself and the SRP. Females, especially, have started to discuss about her strong charisma.”
Mr Panha cautioned, however, that many Cambodians had been less positive about Ms Sochua’s stand against Mr Hun Sen, wondering why she was trying to defy the system.
“There is a saying that the egg cannot confront the stone as it will always lose, and I think many people have debated about why Ms Sochua continued to fight against the authorities,” he said.
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that, while he believed the outcome of the case was a win for both sides, he did not think Ms Sochua would be satisfied with it.
“I think she wanted to push Prime Minister Hun Sen to arrest her and put her in jail,” Mr Sam Oeun said.
He said he believed public opinion was evenly split between those who wanted her to be punished to the full extent of the law and those who were completely opposed to her going to jail.
Mr Sam Oeun added, however, that he believed Cambodians had become tired of hearing about the “political dispute,” and that they were happy to see it come to an end. “Cambodians don’t want to see a political dispute like this, they want to see their leaders out in the community working for the people,” he said.
Government officials said yesterday that there were no political winners or losers of the legal battle, which they characterized as a personal case between two individuals.
Cheam Yeap, CPP lawmaker and chairman of the National Assembly’s finance and banking commission, said yesterday that the case had not affected the public at all. “It’s a personal issue between Mr Hun Sen and Mu Sochua and it’s not related to the individual parties,” Mr Yeap said.
“The courts decided that the premier won the defamation lawsuit. Mu Sochua defamed Premier Hun Sen and it affected his honor, so he filed a lawsuit against her…. It does not affect the public.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the Cambodian people respected that the courts had followed the law. “This case between Mr Hun Sen and Mu Sochua is not about who won or lost…. Justice has been served through the court system,” he said.
“This is not a political issue, it is a personal issue. It is about how Mu Sochua did not obey the rule of law. Everyone knows she did this in her own interest. She insulted the court by not accepting the judgment.”
Ms Sochua acknowledged yesterday that she had benefitted from the exposure gained from the court case but was hesitant to say she had won the trial of public opinion. “I think that for 15 months people have come to know my voice, know my name and want to talk about justice,” she said.
“I am satisfied with the 15 months of exposure I have gained. There is a movement behind this case and it has been a step towards reforming the justice system.”
Ms Sochua said that she believed she had shown Cambodians that justice can prevail if they are willing to fight for their rights. “I cannot say that justice has prevailed totally in my case because I am short thousands of dollars, but I think the concept of justice has prevailed,” she said.
For all of her talk about justice, however, Ms Sochua said the best thing about the court case coming to an end was her family’s relief that it was over. “For 15 months my three daughters have lived through difficult moments, not knowing when their mother was going to jail,” she said. “The most pleasing thing is they do not have to worry about that anymore.”
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)
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