Cambodia’s Sam Rainsy Calls For Immunity From Prosecution For Opposition Lawmakers

cambodia-sam-rainsy-rfa-washington-jun16-2016.jpg Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy discusses parliamentary immunity for lawmakers and a letter he sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen during a live broadcast at RFA's headquarters in Washington, June 16, 2016.

Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Wednesday said lawmakers from his party will not attend future parliamentary sessions unless their constitutionally guaranteed immunity from prosecution is fully respected and protected by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Deputies from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) walked out of the National Assembly last week to boycott a question-and-answer session by the country’s justice minister addressing the alleged misuse of the judiciary to target CNRP lawmakers and human rights activists.

“Before returning to the National Assembly, we want to see the immunity of lawmakers be fully respected and protected as guaranteed by the constitution,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service, adding that Cambodia’s parliament is not functioning properly.

“There is only one dominant party, and even worse than that there is only one man who causes all this trouble at his own will,” he said, referring to Hun Sen.

Cambodian politics is in full crisis mode with tensions between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and CNRP running high. Authorities have arrested opposition party lawmakers, despite their parliamentary immunity, and rights workers, and the CPP has sued a prominent NGO leader and critic of the government as prosecutors pursue a case involving CNRP vice president Kem Sokha’s alleged affair with a young hairdresser.

The CNRP and its supporters claim the charges are a trumped-up attempt to damage the party ahead of elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018.

“We are not going to join this game,” Sam Rainsy said.  “We want to have the principles of a real multi-party democracy.”

‘A petty thing’

Sam Rainsy who is currently in Washington, also discussed the one-page letter he wrote to Hun Sen on Tuesday, expressing regret for an incident involving a former CNRP member who posted salacious accusations about the prime minister’s family on Facebook.

After the posts appeared, Hun Sen accused the CNRP of secretly orchestrating the effort, despite an immediate statement from the opposition party distancing themselves from the comments.

“I wrote this letter not because I expected any response,” Sam Rainsy said. “I wrote it to affirm the moral rectitude of the CNRP, its leaders, and its members who have maintained noble dignity. I did not make any allegations or accusations on personal issues that would lead to humiliation and defamation against others, stain their dignity, or cause them pain.”

Sam Rainsy also denounced accusations against Kem Sokha, whom police attempted to arrest in late May, for failing to appear for questioning about the sex scandal that the government has been prosecuting against him since March. Kem Sokha has since been hiding out in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

“The allegations and accusations regarding a personal issue is of no use and is a petty thing that just diverts people’s attention from the vital issues of the nation,” Sam Rainsy said. “So I also feel regret for and denounce those who have created the same problem for others. And that’s why I wrote that letter expressing regret regarding the accusations against Prime Minister Hun Sen.”

Sam Rainsy said he had not yet received a direct response from Hun Sen about the letter, although the prime minister made a comment about it to the Cambodian newspaper Fresh News, indicating that it was not enough to satisfy him.

“I have no time, and there is no need to talk with a culprit who has been living in exile, running away from a legal dragnet,” Hun Sen said.

‘A good sign’

Sam Rainsy also told RFA he will return to the Southeast Asian nation before key national elections are held in 2017 and 2018.

“We still support and welcome the culture of dialogue,” he said, referring to a previous period of  constructive engagement between the two rival parties.

“The CNRP is not quarreling, but is a victim of successive problems created by those who keep making  allegations and accusations against it,” he said.

He also expressed faith in the Cambodian people who support the CNRP and continue encouraging party leaders by submitting tens of thousands of petitions to the CNRP headquarters in the capital Phnom Penh, sometimes remaining outside the building for days.

“It is a good sign for CNRP as its plan for the upcoming election in 2017,” Sam Rainsy said.

About 2,000 supporters from dozens of cities and provinces have gathered this week at the party’s offices, despite road blockades by armed security forces, as CNRP officials monitor the political situation related to the court cases surrounding Kem Sokha.

Reported by Huot Vuthy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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