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Leading opposition MP faces arrest in Cambodia

Mu Sochua refuses to pay a fine despite a deadline that expired on Thursday evening local time. Criminal convictions against two leading opposition MPs mean they could be banned from competing in the 2013 election.

Outspoken Cambodian opposition party lawmaker Mu Sochua refuses to pay her fine

Outspoken Cambodian opposition party lawmaker Mu Sochua refuses to pay her fine

"I am not going to pay any fine, because my conscience cannot let me pay the fine. Therefore this is really the countdown. I am ready – emotionally, psychologically, physically – ready to go to jail," Mu Sochua told Deutsche Welle on Thursday.

She is arguably Cambodia's leading female parliamentarian, and in the past year has gained a higher international profile.

Tit for tat: PM Hun Sen sued Mu Sochua

Tit for tat: PM Hun Sen sued Mu Sochua

Defamation suit and countersuit

It all began just over a year ago when Mu Sochua, a former minister for women's affairs and now member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, announced she would sue Prime Minister Hun Sen for comments he had made that she felt were defamatory.

Hun Sen immediately countersued saying her defamation suit was itself defamatory. The courts dismissed her case, and Hun Sen went on to win his.

The outcome was expected – Cambodia's courts are not widely seen as independent – and the court fined her 4,000 dollars.

International pressure

Mu Sochua believes that international pressure is the only reason the government has not yet locked her up.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay sees an alarming erosion of free speech and judicial independence in Cambodia

Navi Pillay sees an "alarming erosion" of free speech in Cambodia

Earlier this week, for instance, the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay issued a strong statement condemning the government's pursuit of Mu Sochua through the courts, saying the judiciary was being misused to stifle dissent.

Pillay's stance chimes with the opposition party's thoughts on her case and on two other court cases against the party's leader, Sam Rainsy. He was recently sentenced to two years in jail for removing border markers between Cambodia and Vietnam.

That may sound unduly harsh, but Hanoi is a powerful ally, and the ongoing border demarcation effort between the two nations is highly sensitive for the ruling party of Cambodia.

Targeting Sam Rainsy

The opposition says another case against Sam Rainsy – who is currently in exile in France – is also politically motivated.

Sam Rainsy has been a constant thorn in the side of the ruling party for more than a decade, and a vocal critic of corruption and Hun Sen's style of government. He could be sentenced next month to 18 years in jail for so-called "disinformation" about claims he made regarding Cambodia's border with Vietnam.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has left the country

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has left the country

Chhaya Hang, the executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, a Phnom Penh-based non-governmental organisation focused on democracy, politics and human rights, explained, "it seems like the government has a plan that it absolutely does not want Sam Rainsy to take part in the next elections. So as long as he is away, out of the country, it will serve the government's purpose to consolidate their power."

Mu Sochua said her recent conviction could also see her barred from running for office in 2013. "Democracy in Cambodia has to start with free and fair elections. Where is the international community? Don't come on the day of elections with observers – that is nonsense. We don't want it any more! We want observation to take place now, and we want action now. The EU has put out many reports, and it is about time that the international community acts on the recommendations of the EU."

She insists that donors – which earlier this year announced more than one billion dollars for the government – must stand up and practice what they preach with regard to democracy.

Author: Robert Carmichael (Phnom Penh)
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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