Friday, 08 May 2009
Written by Meas Sokchea and Robbie Corey-Boulet
The Phnom Penh Post
Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard arguments Thursday from the lawyers for opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua and Prime Minister Hun Sen, as it opened the first hearings in a very public defamation row that has drawn increasing attention from Cambodian and international observers.
Mu Sochua said Thursday evening that her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, presented prosecutor Hing Bun Chea with evidence detailing every aspect of her case, which she argues stems from an April 4 speech in Kampot during which Hun Sen called her a cheung klang, or "strong leg", a term viewed by some as particularly offensive to women.
She said the evidence included a transcript of the speech, as well as all documents pertaining to an altercation that occurred during last year's election in which she claimed an army general tore a button from her blouse and exposed her bra.
During the speech, Hun Sen referred to a "strong female MP from the opposition party in Kampot" who lost a button on her shirt while running around embracing people. He did not name Mu Sochua.
Hun Sen has repeatedly denied that the April 4 comments referred to Mu Sochua.
On the same day that Mu Sochua filed her suit, April 27, he filed a countersuit claiming that Mu Sochua had defamed him by saying the comments he made referred to her.
In an interview after the hearing, Ky Tech, Hun Sen's lawyer, declined to comment in detail about the evidence he presented to the prosecutors.
"This is the first step," he said. "They asked me what reason I had for pressing the case and I explained."
The duelling defamation cases continued to draw international attention this week, with Human Rights Watch issuing a statement Tuesday criticising Hun Sen's threat to have Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity lifted.
Om Yentieng, one of Hun Sen's advisers and president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, told Cambodian media April 24 that ruling party MPs might meet to discuss suspending her parliamentary immunity.
Hun Sen said in an April 29 speech that lifting Mu Sochua's immunity would be "easier than peeling a banana".
"This is yet another blatant attempt to silence the political opposition," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams. "By threatening to prosecute opposition members of parliament on bogus charges, Hun Sen shows once again that his goal is elective dictatorship, not a genuinely pluralistic democracy."
The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) issued a statement Thursday that also decried threats made to lift Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity.
"CALD upholds respect for the rule of law and urges that Mr Hun Sen and the majority bloc in the parliament refrain from lifting any member of parliament's immunity unless there is compelling evidence cited for damages," the statement reads.
Kong Sam Onn said after the hearings Thursday that he had requested the court ask the National Assembly to hold a vote on whether to lift Prime Minister Hun Sen's parliamentary immunity.
Mu Sochua described this move as an attempt to "make the process equal", saying, "If immunity is being lifted, it should be done on an equal basis."
Reached Thursday evening, Hing Bun Chea said he did not know when the next meetings related to the case would be held.
Sok Roeun, the prosecutor in the case filed by Hun Sen, declined on Thursday to comment about the hearings and future proceedings.