Court rules politician defamed Cambodian PM
Associated Press
2009-08-04 02:26 PM
A Cambodian court found an outspoken opposition legislator guilty Friday of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen, despite complaints from rights groups that the lawsuit was aimed at silencing critics.

During a closed door hearing Tuesday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sem Sakola found lawmaker Mu Sochua guilty and ordered her to pay 8.5 million riel ($2,000) to the state and another 8 million riel ($1,882) compensation to Hun Sen.

Mu Sochua said the ruling showed that the courts were at the mercy of powerful politicians, an allusion to Hun Sen who dominates the country's political scene.

"I do not accepted the ruling of the court," Mu Sochua said before marching with supporters two miles (three kilometers) to the headquarters her Sam Rainsy Party. "I am a victim in the case. I will continue the fight until justice is provided to me."

Outside the court, about 100 supporters of Mu Sochua clashed with police, with witnesses telling reporters that several were beaten with batons and kicked. No one was seriously injured.

The case against Mu Sochua was filed after she attempted to sue the prime minister after she claimed he made defamatory remarks about her during two speeches.

In early April, Hun Sen referred to an unnamed lawmaker as a "strong leg," a term seen by some in Cambodia as particularly offensive to women. Mu Sochua has said the speech clearly referred to her. She also denounced his remarks in another speech.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court rejected her lawsuit in June, saying it was groundless, but it moved ahead with the prime minister's countersuit.

Cambodia's Parliament then stripped immunity from Mu Sochua and another opposition legislator who was being sued for defamation by Hun Sen and senior military officers. The two accused Parliament of serving the prime minister's interests as colleagues staged a walkout.

In June, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia and New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the lawsuits against the lawmakers.

The U.N. in a statement said the lawsuits undermine the constitutional freedom of opinion and expression.

Human Rights Watch said Hun Sen had "a long history of trying to muzzle Cambodia's political opposition and undermine the independence of the legal profession."

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