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Court Puts Off Verdict in Defamation Case

An unruly gathering of opposition supporters on Friday caused Phnom Penh Municipal Court to postpone a verdict in the defamation case against Mu Sochua until August.

Mu Sochua is being sued by Prime Minister Hun Sen for defamation, following her own suit against the premier in April. The municipal court was swarmed with more than 200 supporters Friday, while observers from the diplomatic and civil rights communities looked on.

Mu Sochua was present for the proceedings, which lasted all day, but she was unable to find a lawyer, after her first counsel resigned in the face of his own defamation suit and other attorneys were not found. Mu Sochua invoked her right to remain silent, saying in a statement to the court she was being denied a right to a fair trial.

“This right can only be guaranteed when I, as the accused, am judged by an independent and impartial tribunal,” she told the court.

Mu Sochua had sued Hun Sen for allegedly derogatory remarks made during the 2008 election campaign, but the court dropped the suit against her while maintaining the countersuit of Hun Sen. She had her parliamentary immunity suspended by the National Assembly in June.

“As an elected representative of the people, as a woman verbally attacked in public, I seek justice,” she said in her statement to the court. “The decision you are about to make will require conscience, impartiality and your own determination to stay above all forms of political pressure. If your choice is dictated by those who use the court as an instrument to silence their critics, then there can be no justice. There can be no rule of law.”

Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, demanded the court punish Mu Sochua “according to the law” and fine her 10 million riel, about $2,500.

Court prosecutor Sok Kalyan said the evidence showed Mu Sochua was guilty of defaming Hun Sen and the law called for a fine of up to that amount. The law did not call for a prison term, he said.

At the end of the day, court judges said they would announce a verdict Aug. 4.