The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has written to National Assembly President Heng Samrin through the Ministry of Justice to lift SRP President Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity after he refused to pay a $2,500 fine handed down by the National Election Committee, the government’s spokesman said Sunday.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that Justice Ministry officials had informed him that the ministry had received the request from the court last week.
“I was told that there is a request to lift Sam Rainsy’s immunity,” Khieu Kanharith said by telephone. “I can confirm it,” he added, before referring further questions to the National Assembly.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Roeun, who is in charge of the Sam Rainsy case, said he couldn’t comment on the request because it is a confidential matter.
“This is the court’s confidentiality,” Sok Roeun said.
Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, while the minister’s cabinet chief Chan Mono said he was traveling and wasn’t aware of the request.
The court’s request came after Sok Roeun briefly questioned Sam Rainsy on Feb 11 regarding SRP leader’s refusal to pay a $2,500 fine levied by the NEC for insulting the ruling CPP during the election campaign period. Sam Rainsy told Sok Rouen during that session that he would pay the fine only after he had exhausted all of his legal options, including a Supreme Court review and a royal pardon.
Under the Constitution, National Assembly members like Sam Rainsy are granted immunity from prosecution unless caught in the act of committing a criminal offense. Stripping a lawmaker of his immunity requires a two-thirds vote by the Assembly.
The Assembly previously stripped Sam Rainsy of his parliamentarian immunity in February 2005 over a defamation case brought by then-Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, prompting the opposition leader to leave the country for nearly a year. In August of last year, the Phnom Penh court asked for Sam Rainsy’s immunity to be stripped due to a defamation and disinformation suit brought by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, but the matter was then quickly settled without incident.
CPP lawmaker and National Assembly permanent committee member Cheam Yeap said Sunday that the legislature has not yet seen the court’s request. He added that upon receiving the request, the permanent committee will decide whether the Assembly should vote on lifting Sam Rainsy’s immunity.
Cheam Yeap added that as a lawmaker Sam Rainsy must pay the NEC’s fine.
“If he didn’t want to pay the fines, he shouldn’t have committed crimes,” Cheam Yeap said. He added that National Assembly must remove Sam Rainsy’s immunity in order to compel Sam Rainsy to pay his fine.
“He must pay the fines,” he said.
Sam Rainsy said on Sunday that he wasn’t interested in the news that the court is seeking to have his immunity lifted.
“I am not concerned about the National Assembly lifting my immunity, the National Assembly’s session is worth more than my fine,” Sam Rainsy said.
He added that he would pay the NEC’s fine if it is still demanded of him when he is through with his legal battle.