National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun said on Sunday that an opposition lawmaker who was on Friday found guilty of aiding a prison break could be arrested and jailed once he has exhausted his avenues of appeal, automatically extinguishing his immunity as a lawmaker.
CNRP lawmaker Chan Cheng was one of two people sentenced in absentia to two years in jail after being found guilty of providing transportation to a CNRP district councilor accused of escaping from the Kandal provincial prison in 2011.
The councilor, Meas Peng, was also sentenced to 18 months in prison by the provincial court, but none of the three opposition figures have been imprisoned or arrested.
Mr. Vun said Mr. Cheng’s immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker will prevent his arrest until the appeals process is completed, at which point his immunity will expire if the guilty verdict is not overturned.
The Constitution says that a lawmaker’s immunity can only be expunged by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly, or in cases of “flagrante delicto”—when they are caught in the act of committing the crime.
“Now, no one can arrest him because his immunity remains,” said Mr. Vun, a ruling CPP lawmaker. “He will lose his immunity when the verdict becomes effective.”
“For example, when the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court hear the case…it will be effective at this period in time,” he said.
Mr. Vun also echoed opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s comments last week that political machinations could intervene to overturn the conviction before then.
“I think both leaders can compromise on this issue through the culture of dialogue,” Mr. Vun said.
Lim Sokuntha, chief prosecutor at the provincial court, said Friday that the court was legally allowed to prosecute a lawmaker despite their immunity, and only required the immunity to be lifted in order to arrest a parliamentarian.
On Sunday, he confirmed Mr. Vun’s interpretation of parliamentary immunity and said that Mr. Cheng would be arrested should the court’s guilty verdict be upheld.
“There has been no arrest warrant issued,” he said. “They have decided to sentence him after the verdict becomes effective—within 30 days, if he doesn’t appeal.”
“[The court] has sentenced him but is counting [the days] for the verdict to become effective, so [we must] wait until the final courts make a decision—the Appeal Court and Supreme Court,” Mr. Sokuntha said.
“If the verdict becomes effective, the prosecutor will implement the decision of the court.”
Mr. Peng, the man at the center of the prison break charges, says he walked freely from the Kandal provincial prison the day that he was detained—for allegedly inciting villagers in a land dispute—in September 2011, after his lawyer and Mr. Cheng negotiated his release.