Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) plan to hit lawmakers boycotting the National Assembly in the wallet as they approved new rules that cut lawmakers pay if they refuse to show up.
CPP officials say the Wednesday’s action by the assembly’s powerful Standing Committee is a move to ensure accountability.
“The sanction is meant to hold lawmakers accountable before their constituents,” said CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun. “It is to let people see that no one is spared from going unpunished regardless of his parliamentary status if he abuses the rules.”
While the CPP wrapped itself in the cloak of accountability, opposition lawmakers told RFA’s Khmer Service that it is unnecessary.
“I take it as a redundancy,” said Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yem Ponhearith. “The current National Assembly’s regulations are comprehensive enough for the assembly’s Standing Committee and the general secretariat of the National Assembly to apply.”
The boycott has been a favorite tool of the CNRP as it is one of the most dramatic ways opposition lawmakers can draw attention to their cause and force Hun Sen and the CPP to negotiate.
The current boycott started in October 2015, when the CPP’s lawmakers voted to remove deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha as first vice president of the National Assembly, and two CNRP lawmakers were beaten.
While the CPP takes aim at the opposition’s pay, the new rules are even more draconian as lawmakers can see their pay docked for more mundane offenses like improper speeches and gestures or interrupting other speakers during the sessions.
Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long told RFA the new rules apply to every lawmaker.
“The sanctions are not meant just for opposition lawmakers,” he said. “Any lawmakers who abuse the rules will be punished.”
A lack of faith
Opposition lawmakers can take the new rules with a grain of salt as the ruling party has shown a little willingness to be inclusive in its punishments outside of the National Assembly.
An opposition lawmaker, who was allegedly brutally beaten last year by members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, told RFA’s “Khmer TV News Program” that he has lost faith in the country’s judicial system because of its uneven application.
“The trials were a farce,” Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Kong Saphea said on Wednesday’s RFA’s live TV show. “The Cambodian court is a tool used to persecute the opposition that has applied a double standard. We have no faith in it.”
Nhay Chamreoun and Kong Sophea on were beaten in front of the National Assembly building in Phnom Penh in Oct. 2015. The lawmakers were dragged from their vehicles and punched and kicked in view of some parliamentary security officials,
Witnesses have told RFA that they transported nearly 200 young men from a fortress called the Commissionaire of Bodyguards of Hun Sen, and known as Banteay Pong Loeung in Khmer, to the area. The fortress lies just down a river from the capital at Prek Samrong village in a town called Takhmao, near Hun Sen’s official residence.
Three members of the bodyguard unit were convicted of assaulting the lawmakers in May, but were given an extraordinarily light sentence for the crime and are expected to spend only a year in jail.
Nhay Chamreoun, who holds U.S. and Cambodian citizenship, has sought a lawsuit in a US court filed against Hun Sen’s eldest son Hun Manet and the government of Cambodia.
Hun Manet heads the Cambodian military’s anti-terror unit, is deputy chairman of the joint staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and is deputy commander of the Prime Minister's Bodyguard Unit, an elite force that has often been at the center of complaints about rights abuses.
Hun Manet is widely viewed as the successor to his father, who has ruled the country for more than 30 years.
Humanitarian relief denied
Kong Saphea’s complaints came as the Cambodian Supreme Court denied a request by imprisoned CNRP lawmaker Meach Sovannara for medical treatment in the U.S. Meach Sovannara also holds dual citizenship.
Meach Sovannara was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of insurrection after a protest in Freedom Park in Phnom Penh in 2014 descended into a brawl between opposition supporters and government-sponsored security guards.
“The ruling to ban Meach Sovannara from travelling to the U.S. to meet his wife and children is unjust and unacceptable,” said attorney Choung Chung Ngy. “It is an inhumane act to prevent him from seeing his family in America while he is an American citizen.”
In 2014 Meach Sovannara was seriously injured in an automobile accident while free on bail. He was treated in the U.S., but returned for his trial.
The driver of the car that rammed into the one driven by Meach Sovannara fled and was not identified, according to local news reports
Meach Sovannara is also suing Hun Manet and the country of Cambodia in the U.S. for the emotional and financial damage borne by Sovannara’s family for, among other things, what the suit calls his wrongful imprisonment and torture.
Foreign governments and officials are generally protected by sovereignty from being brought to trial in the U.S., as they are in other countries. But Meach Sovannara’s case is testing those exceptions.
The suit alleges that Hun Manet’s family connections and leadership role within Cambodia’s security forces make him liable for the emotional and financial damages borne by Sovannara’s family.
Sam Rainsy ban condemned
While the ruling party appears to be clamping down on the opposition inside Cambodia, the government is attempting to keep CNRP president Sam Rainsy out of the country.
The government of Cambodia has formally exiled the country’s opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, ordering immigration officials to “take legal action to prevent this person from entering Cambodia.”
A letter from the country’s Cabinet to immigration officials, made public over the weekend, also warns that planes with him aboard will be forced to turn around and leave.
He has vowed to return to help the CNRP contest local elections set for 2017 and national elections scheduled for 2018, and recently reached out to King Norodom Sihamoni to seek a pardon for himself and other opposition figures convicted or jailed by a legal system controlled by Hun Sen.
Sam Rainsy has been living abroad off and on for years as Hun Sen’s government has charged him with a number of offenses that observers inside and outside Cambodia see as politically motivated.
Brad Adams, Asia director for the civil society organization Human Rights Watch, urged donor nations to pressure Hun Sen to rescind the ban.
“The official exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy is just the latest effort by Cambodia’s ruling party to win the next national elections – by ensuring they have no real competition,” Adams said.
“Cambodia’s donors and ASEAN members should urgently and publicly call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to end his political persecution of the opposition.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak defended the action on Tuesday, saying Cambodian has no reason to explain anything
“There is no need for us to give any explanation,” he said. “The U.N. is not our guru. Cambodia is sovereign state.”
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.