Culture of monologue

As opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua faced questioning at court yesterday over charges laid last year of “leading an insurrection”, Prime Minister Hun Sen stressed that the newfound “culture of dialogue” had no bearing on such legal action.

Speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 students at a Phnom Penh graduation ceremony, the premier said the so-called culture of dialogue recently forged with Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy does not affect the constitution, Constitutional Council, courts, legislative and executive bodies or existing laws.

It was the “court’s business” if it chose to question people, he said.

The remarks were prompted by the re-summonsing of seven CNRP lawmakers – Mu Sochua, Ho Vann, Long Ry, Keo Phirum, Men Sothavarin, Real Camerin and Nuth Romduol – over their alleged role in a violent protest near the capital’s Freedom Park last July, during which several district security guards were beaten by opposition supporters.

Sovatharin said on Sunday that he believed the summonses were aimed at ending the cases so that the culture of dialogue could progress, unimpeded by ongoing lawsuits.

But Hun Sen yesterday insisted that was not the case, while also shaking off claims that the summonses violated the much-touted culture.

“This [summonsing] is the power of the court,” he said. “[The new culture] is a political framework [of the two parties] to ensure political stability and macroeconomic development, which does not cover lawsuits in the court.”

Yesterday’s was the latest in a string of speeches made in recent months in which the prime minister has sought to distance himself from seemingly politically motivated cases. Many, however, remain unconvinced.

“We all know the court is not independent, [and] we all know the court is under the executive,” said analyst Ou Virak.

Speaking outside the courtroom yesterday, Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said the court would not be summonsing lawmakers – who are protected by parliamentary immunity – if the cases were not politically motivated.

The lawmakers’ questioning, he added, would bring attention to the fact that the “immunity of lawmakers is not really worth anything”, adding that the charges should be dropped in line with the recent detente between the parties.

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua poses for photos with activists at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday where she was questioned about a protest at Freedom Park in July that turned violent. Hong Menea

Mu Sochua, the first of the lawmakers to face questioning at the court, reserved her right to remain silent yesterday, refusing to answer investigating judge Keo Mony’s questions.

If the court “enforced [the law] according to proper procedure, I would answer”, she told reporters afterward, referring to her parliamentary immunity.

Mony could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, even as the lawmakers’ re-summonsing has raised questions for some about the new era of cooperation, Hun Sen yesterday continued to extol its benefits, explaining that wars – among them World War II, which ended only after Axis powers had been pummelled into submission – had not ended because of fighting, but because of dialogue. The remarks came on the heels of his party’s decision to reverse an order asking its officials to monitor the CNRP’s use of insults in speeches.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan explained that a seven-point list of dos and don’ts signed by both parties days later in a bid to maintain harmony had proved sufficient.

The list advises members of both parties to avoid insults such as “dog’s head, Khmer body”, and phrases like “war will happen”.

“We monitored the situation [and], in general, it was calm so far,” he said.

But, he added, CPP officials had been told to keep a close eye on Kem Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition, who has spoken out publicly against Hun Sen on several occasions since the inauguration of the new paradigm.

After meeting with supporters on Sunday at the opening of a CNRP office in Takeo province, Sokha took to Facebook to thank those “who have expressed concern about my safety, as I am always threatened and intimidated in many ways”.