Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who is facing court action in a suit brought by the prime minister, left for the US on Friday, claiming she wants to screen a film on human trafficking and deliver a petition to the US president.
A government spokesman said she was more likely fleeing court-mandated fines after being found guilty of defamation.
Mu Sochua, who lost an appeal at the Supreme Court earlier this month in a defamation suit brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has said she will not pay $4,500 in fines and compensation.
Her court battle with Hun Sen comes at a time when Cambodia’s courts are facing mounting pressure to reform. Earlier this week, the UN envoy for human rights, Surya Subedi, said he did not have faith in the courts’ ability to provide justice to Cambodians.
Subedi referred specifically to the case of Mu Sochua, who was sued by Hun Sen last year after she brought a suit against him alleging he had defamed her with sexist and degrading statements in a series of public speeches.
Prior to her departure, Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, distributed a petition through the Internet censuring the Supreme Court’s June 2 decision, which upheld defamation charges against her.
“She will submit the petition to US President Barack Obama,” Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ho Vann said Friday.
Mu Sochua, who is a former minister of women’s affairs, plans to stay through June 25, to submit her petition to the administration and to take part in the screening of a documentary on human trafficking that she helped produce.
The film, “Red Light,” travels to Cambodia’s brothels and victim centers to underscore the need to eliminate trafficking.
“It is to show the pain of Khmer children,” Mu Sochua told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport prior to her departure Friday.
Human trafficking is a product of “inaction of the government and of poverty,” she said. “So this is to inform the government about the pain and about its responsibility in finding the criminals.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Mu Sochua’s film would not have an effect on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, which he said are already underway. The US took Cambodia off a “watch list” of countries not doing enough to fight trafficking earlier this month.
Mu Sochua’s departure also came as court officials moved to collect the fines from her.
Chiv Keng, head judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Mu Sochua would be “forced to pay.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Mu Sochua was likely fleeing potential arrest by the courts. “To meet Obama is not easy,” he said.