CCHR Criticizes Immunity Law as Unconstitutional

The Cambodian Center for Hu­man Rights has called on the Senate, the Constitutional Council and King Norodom Sihamoni to reject the newly approved law that criminalizes certain comments by National Assembly members.

In a act of self-censorship, 90 CPP and Funcinpec lawmakers voted in favor of the law on Wednes­day, effectively scrapping their parliamentary immunity from prosecution for comments that “abuse an individual’s dignity, so­cial customs, public order and na­tional security.”

The law, which included a pension and funeral expenses package for lawmakers, also in­cluded a clause pertaining to undefined “obvious crimes” for which a lawmaker can be charged, arrested and detained without an immunity-lifting vote of the Assembly.

“This statute seriously harms the mission of those elected by the people,” the CCHR said in a statement released on Friday.

“It will encourage government officials to use the judiciary system for silencing Members of Par­lia­ment that criticized their policies or actions. This is a major setback for freedom of expression in Cam­bo­dia,” CCHR said. “Instead of creating laws that will promote civil lib­erties we are moving backwards.”

The CCHR noted that the statue violates Article 80 of the Con­sti­tution, which reads “No Assembly member shall be prosecuted, de­tained or arrested because of opinions expressed during the exercise of his (her) duties.”

“We call on the Senate, the Con­stitutional Council and the King to re­fuse this statue,” CCHR Pres­i­dent Kem Sokha said in the statement.

Cheam Yeap, CPP lawmaker, said that the law would not affect the lawmakers’ freedoms but it would simply “smooth out” the pro­cedures related to their behavior.

“The law doesn’t allow anyone to use their immunity as a raincoat to protect themselves when they behave unprofessionally,” Cheam Yeap said. “They still have all kinds of freedoms to criticize corrupt officials or anything else but they must not go beyond their responsibility.”

“It is not walking backward [from democracy] like communism or the Taliban,” he added, citing recent examples of regimes that have been evoked by critics of the new law.

European Parliament Member Marco Pannella told reporters at a news conference at the SRP offices inside the Assem­bly that the law was unconstitutional.

Pannella, an SRP supporter, said the law effectively eliminated what people call “the National Assem­bly.”

“The law that Cambodia just passed…is like that of a dictatorship,” he said.

 

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