Friday, 24 April 2009

Woman MP threatens to sue Cambodian leader

Cambodian opposition MP Mu Sochua (here with her lawyer) announces she will sue Prime Minister Hun Sen. [Radio Australia: Robert Carmichael]

Australia Network News

Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh

Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is set to be sued for defamation by one of the kingdom's leading female opposition politicians.

Mu Sochua wants little more than an apology but the move to challenge the Cambodian "strong man" in the courts is seen as unprecedented.

Hun Sen is not a man to be taken lightly, taking pride in his reputation and regarded with a mixture of fear and respect.

He has also reportedly never been sued.

But unless he retracts recent comments, Mu Sochua will begin a court action against him before the end of April.

Constant thorn

She is a senior MP in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, or SRP, the largest opposition party. Before she joined the SRP, she was the minister for women's affairs in the coalition government.

The SRP is a constant thorn in the prime minister's side, regularly criticising him and his ruling Cambodian People's Party for not cracking down on corruption and abuses of the law.

The comments made by the prime minister and broadcast nationally did not use Mu Sochua's name directly, but she says she was clearly the target.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith says the prime minister is not concerned about the case, and says Mu Sochua is simply presenting herself as a victim and trying to discredit Hun Sen.

Referring to a land grab case in the southern province of Kampot - which Mu Sochua represents - Hun Sen said that those villagers who wanted their case resolved by him ought not to go to "the opposition female MP".

Thrown off land

Five villagers had been injured when the army threw them off their land and burned down their homes.

During his speech, Mu Sochua told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program, Hun Sen referred to her as "cheung chat" - a derogatory term that she says conveys the meaning of a hustler, somewhere between a gangster and a prostitute.

That, she claims, was in response to a run-in during last year's general election, when she was involved in a confrontation with an army general, who she also took to court. She says the prime minister's remarks could influence the judges in a pending appeal.

She says: "I do this on behalf of Cambodian women.

"I do it on behalf of women in general, because women who are raped, who are assaulted - verbally, sexually, physically and so on - who don't have a voice, cry in silence, are ruined inside."

15 cents claim

She is worried. "It is dangerous - if you consider all the killings that have taken place of people who are strong activists, who are human rights activists, and members of the opposition."

All she wants is an apology and 500 riel in damages - a symbolic sum of around 15 Australian cents.

Mu Sochua admits it is unlikely that she will win her case, but says if she does she will frame the red 500 riel banknote and hang it in her office.


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