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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cambodian opposition MPs stripped of parliamentary immunity

Cambodian opposition MPs stripped of parliamentary immunity

Cambodia's opposition says it's under attack because of what it describes as a new round of politically motivated lawsuits and a vote by the National Assembly which has resulted in two opposition MPs being stripped of their parliamentary immunity.

Mu Sochua, former Cambodian minister of women's affairs, and Ho Vann, a Phnom Penh municipality representative, had their immunity lifted after a single show-of-hands vote by the National Assembly. They both face defamation lawsuits in Cambodia's notoriously corrupt courts.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Mu Sochua, Cambodian opposition MP

COCHRANE: High profile opposition MP Mu Sochua has been locked in a battle of lawsuits with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen for some weeks now.

But, now that the National Assembly has voted to remove the Parliamentary immunity from Mu Sochua and her fellow party member Ho Vann, effectively, the gloves are off...

SOCHUA: The procedures where the most undemocratic because we were not allowed a chance to speak at all and there was a vote by raising of hands, lifting immunity of two members of parliament at the same time in one vote.

COCHRANE: Let's deal with them separately, why was your immunity lifted?

SOCHUA: My case is from a lawsuit by the Prime Minister against me for defamation. The Prime Minister pointed very clearly at me when he went to my constituency and talked about a number of parliament, a women from the opposition party and called me by a name that is not acceptable to call me, he called me a hustler. Second he said that I went and grabbed men and thirdly it was related to meetings that I went to and I was not allowed to go in, and he said that I had a very thick skin. And fourth, which is very, very serious is that I incite my constituents and people against the government.

COCHRANE: And can you tell me about the other member of parliament whose immunity was lifted? Who was that and why was the immunity lifted?

SOCHUA: My colleague, Mr Ho Vann is a member of parliament elected in the municipality of Phnom Penh. He made a comment by responding to the media about honorary degrees that were received by some military officials. His comment was that he didn't think that these degrees were valuable, but if they were valuable then the quality of degrees should allow the numbers of the armed forces to help and then to protect the nation.

COCHRANE: Without parliamentary immunity you face the court as an ordinary citizen, what chances do you think you'll have of finding justice at the court?

SOCHUA: The chance of me getting justice is very close to zero.

COCHRANE: Mu Sochua you've said previously that you would rather go to jail rather than pay a fine if you are found guilty of this defamation charge. Are you still feeling that same way?

SOCHUA: Definitely I am very determined to face the court and I will not be surprised if the court finds me guilty. My stance will not change, I am ready, my conscience is clear about wanting justice, wanting a judicial system that can protect citizens of Cambodia. So I am ready, I am preparing to go to jail.

COCHRANE: There are rumours around at the moment that you are about to flee the country or you may have already fled the country. Is there any truth to those rumours?

SOCHUA: I have always been very transparent that I am not fleeing the country. I came back to Cambodia in 1989, I have never gone back to America to live. My country is Cambodia, I said from the very beginning that I will not flee, I will come back to face the courts.

COCHRANE: Mu Sochua, just finally, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In the past opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Cheam Channy and others have had their immunity stripped, and in Cheam Channy's case gone to jail. Do you think this is a political action against you.

SOCHUA: Yes it's a political action against the opposition. Cambodia is walking more than one step backwards, democracy in Cambodia is in real jeopardy. I think the world community cannot ignore this and especially the government of Australia. What is Australia doing when democracy in Cambodia is facing such a serious set of going back to dictatorship?

COCHRANE: A representative from Cambodia's National Assembly was not available for comment on the issue.

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