CAMBODIA: The odds are stacked against a fair trial for opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua
Mu Sochua, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Sam Rainsy party, was tried on 24 July 2009. She was charged with defamation against Prime Minister Hun Sen following her announcement of her own defamation lawsuit against the latter in press conference held in April. In Cambodia, defamation is a non-custodial criminal offense punishable by a fine.
She was not able to secure the service of a defense counsel and chose to exercise the right to remain silence throughout the hearing. The verdict is expected to be announced on 4 August. Considering the political control of the judiciary and the intension to terminate her political career, the chances of Mu Sochua getting a fair trial are very remote, however strong her case might be.
Executive control of the court is an established fact and it is known that the court lacks independence. It is evident that it had been used by the powerful against the critics. The government has implicitly acknowledged this shortcoming of the judiciary and has even planned to correct it. For that part, almost all prosecutors and judges are still affiliated to the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP), formerly a communist party whose discipline on members is still as strict as in the communist State.
Following Mu Sochuas announcement of her lawsuit against Hun Sen, there seems to be a scheme to get at her and terminate her political activities altogether. Based on the strength of his party, Hun Sen said that it would be easy to lift Mu Sochuas immunity so that she could be tried. While the lifting of this immunity was pending, Hun Sen suggested to the Sam Rainsy party to prepare for the replacement of Mu Sochua in the parliament, an implied threat of the end of her political career but which was immediately dismissed by her party.
As to the actual lifting of her immunity, there was no respect for the principle of natural justice. There was no impartial mechanism to examine the charge and to hear her case.
Considering of the flaw in the justice system and the scheme to end the political activities of the opposition Member of Parliament (fumus percutionis), the Asian Human Rights Commission hold that Mu Sochua is denied her right to a fair trial by independent, competent and impartial tribunals duly established by law, as stipulated under article 14 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Cambodia is a party. Therefore, any verdict against MP Mu Sochua will not carry any authority of a court of law.