The National Assembly’s 12-member permanent committee on Monday opted to forward the issue of removing opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua’s parliamentary immunity to a vote of the entire Assembly, an apparent reversal for the committee which, a senior member indicated, was planning to decide on the immunity issue alone.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, a member of the permanent committee, said Sunday that only a vote of the committee would be required to lift Ms Sochua’s immunity.
However, following Monday’s meeting, Mr Yeap said that the permanent committee determined that it only had the authority to lift a lawmaker’s immunity if the Nat-
ional Assembly was on vacation, as it had done in February in the case of SRP President Sam Rainsy.
“We will have the whole National Assembly decide to suspend Mu Sochua’s immunity,” Mr Yeap said by telephone, adding that the Assembly will vote on the matter on June 22.
The Justice Ministry has re-
quested that Ms Sochua’s immunity be lifted so that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court can proceed with a defamation lawsuit lodged against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Members of the opposition and NGOs are crying foul over the court’s alleged preferential treatment of the premier’s court case, as Ms Sochua`s original case against the premier has already been dropped by the court.
More than 50 members of local groups including the Community Legal Education Center, Camb-
odian Center for human Rights, Cambodian Independent Teach-
ers’ Association and right group Licadho on Monday submitted a signed petition to National As-
sembly President Heng Samrin requesting that Ms Sochua’s immunity not be lifted.
“As citizens, we are seriously concerned about the dispute developing between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Her Excellency Mu Sochua,” the petition said, calling on Mr Samrin to find a “peaceful solution” to the matter.
Mr Yeap, however, said that the Assembly would not consider the NGOs’ request to stop the lifting of Ms Sochua’s immunity.
“The Ministry of Justice requested to strip her immunity so the National Assembly must comply with its rules,” Mr Yeap said.
The permanent committee’s decision to have the entire National Assembly determine Ms Sochua’s fate was greeted positively by the petitioners.
“The lawmaker must have immunity because with immunity she can work to protect her constituency,” said CLEC Director Yeng Virak, one of the signatories on the petition.
“When the lawmakers are afraid [to speak out] it will be a problem for democracy and the country’s development,” he added.
Ms Mu Sochua also welcomed the decision.
“I accepted the permanent committee decision. I think it is good that the committee submitted the case before the whole Assembly session,” she said before declining to comment further.