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The Cambodian activist and politician sees a jail sentence as the next step in her struggle.
Hun Sen, who at 57 shows no signs of planning an early retirement, has plenty of reason for wanting to take on Mu Sochua's party. In November 2009, he had Sam Rainsy, who leads the opposition, stripped of parliamentary immunity for the second time that year because Sam Rainsy had removed several posts marking the border with Vietnam. Rainsy contends that the Vietnamese, who were responsible for Hun Sen's rise to power in Cambodia, have been engaged in a land grab for themselves based on questionable treaty arrangements.
Mu Sochua insists that her spat focuses on Hun Sen's vulgar use of language and the corruption of Cambodia's legal system. “What is at stake,” she said, “is democracy. The space for democracy is narrowed by the power of the ruling party, and mainly by the power of Hun Sen, who has his hands in every institution, including the parliament and the courts. He didn't just insult me as a woman. He insulted the parliament as an institution. I am actually taking the justice system itself to court.”
The story gets a bit more complicated since Mu Sochua received a 2005 leadership award from the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation.
“This is also a challenge for the international community,” Mu Sochua says. “They invest $1 billion a year in Cambodia, but they never fulfilled their responsibilities by making it a condition that the government fulfills its obligations towards human rights.” Hillary Clinton delivered a brief address via satellite at the end of the Geneva meeting, but it was not clear what her take as Secretary of State would be on Mu Sochua's case.
Even more potentially troublesome for Hun Sen is the fact that Mu Sochua, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology at San Francisco State University and a masters in Social Work at the University of California, Berkely, is married to an American who runs a major project on decentralization for the United Nations in Cambodia. “My husband is completely separate from my political life,” she explains. Her three children now live abroad, but both her husband and children are emotionally supportive. “I told my family that I am going to jail. Please don't talk me out of it. It has come to that point, Mom is going to jail,” she says. “It gives me peace in heart.” Whether it gives Hun Sen or his supporters peace of mind is another matter.