Cambodian NGO’s joint statement on lifting of Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity

Press release

FIDH echoes today the contents of the Cambodian civil society regarding the lifting of parliamentary immunity of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) President Sam Rainsy.

We, the CCHR, CLEC, NICFEC and LICADHO, undersigned members of Cambodian civil society, condemn the lifting of parliamentary immunity from Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) President Sam Rainsy by the National Assembly on November 16, 2009. The Assembly’s action is yet another blow to Cambodia’s faltering democracy, and continues the government’s disturbing trend of using the courts to intimidate and weaken political opponents.

Rainsy is the third SRP member to be stripped of parliamentary immunity – the second time this year only - in the past five months. Fellow SRP Parliamentarians Mu Sochua and Ho Vann were stripped of their immunity by the National Assembly on June 22, 2009. The latter was acquitted by the Phnom Penh court on September 22, 2009; yet, the National Assembly has failed to restore his parliamentary immunity back.

The Assembly’s practice of routinely stripping opposition party MPs of immunity raises grave doubts about Cambodia’s democracy. Even more disturbing is the nature of the charges against these politicians, whose alleged crimes all stem from public expression of opinion on sensitive topics to the ruling party.

The Svay Rieng court is considering charging Rainsy with incitement and destruction to public property in relation to the uprooting of wooden posts set to mark Cambodia’s newly-agreed border with Vietnam which took place on October 25, 2009. The Cambodian government alleges that this act "incited" villagers to commit crimes; Rainsy claims that the markers were on Cambodia’s soil. Accusations were brought against Sam Rainsy after complaints by the Vietnamese government which enjoys a long history with the ruling party.

The Cambodia-Vietnam border issue is a sensitive issue. In late 2005, Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando was charged and sent to Prey Sar prison after Sonando broadcasted an interview in which Seang Pengse was critical of a border treaty signed by the Cambodian Government. Shortly after, Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA) President Rong Chun joined Sonando in jail when the government accused him of incitement in relation to a joint statement signed by civil society leaders calling for the "mourning of lost land" to Vietnam.

Today’s events are a testament to Cambodia’s shrinking democracy, and the willingness of the ruling party – with the support of their partner National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) and the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP), it seems – to quash political dissent. This morning, all 87 members of parliament present at the National Assembly voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy. Members of National Assembly from SRP and Human Rights Party (HRP) were not present at the NA.

The lifting of parliamentary immunity and the increase in defamation, disinformation and incitement charges against journalists, civil society members and opposition party leaders is reminiscent of the 2005 crack down on opposition and nongovernmental voices. In that year, Sam Rainsy and two other SRP MPs, Chea Poch and Mr. Cheam Channy, also had their parliamentary immunity removed so they could face criminal charges filed by the government. Mr. Cheam Channy was subsequently imprisoned for a year after being unlawfully convicted by the military court on bogus criminal charges.

We urge the National Assembly to respect its principle of parliamentary immunity and for the Cambodian government and courts to cease harassment and end groundless legal attacks against opposition party politicians and other critics.

Read more