Judge Refuses to Release Cheam Channy

The judge investigating jailed opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy said Sunday that he will not consider releasing the parliamentarian on bail, despite sharp criticism from the US and human rights groups against the Na­tional Assembly for stripping him and two others of their parliamentary immunity.

Meanwhile, Sam Rainsy Party of­­ficials said fellow opposition lawmaker Chea Poch—who was stripped of his immunity along with party leader Sam Rainsy in the controversial Thursday As­sem­­bly session—fled the country.

Military Court investigating Judge Pok Pon said he will question Cheam Channy today over accusations that he was organizing an illegal armed force, a charge that opposition members deny.

Since Cheam Channy’s Thurs­day evening arrest, he has not been questioned by the Military Court because he had complained of a headache, Pok Pon said.

“I think I cannot release him on bail because it is a serious case,” Pok Pon said. “I will question him to fill in my documents to prepare to set a trial,” he said.

Cheam Channy’s lawyer Mao Sophearith said he will nevertheless request today that his client be released on bail.

“We want the Military Court to release him,” Mao Sophearith said Sunday. “He has done nothing wrong.”

He added that Cheam Chan­ny’s case should not be heard at the Military Court, since his client is a civilian. The military court is set up to hear cases of military officials, he said.

Opposition party members maintained that the so-called illegal armed force, which Cheam Channy stands accused of organizing, is merely a legitimate “shadow Cabinet” to oversee the government’s military activities.

On Friday, following on the heels of Sam Rainsy, who fled Cam­bodia the day before, Chea Poch left for an undisclosed country, said opposition party Sec­retary-General Eng Chhay Eang.

“He fled the country because of the arrest of Cheam Channy and the pressure” from ruling parties, Eng Chhay Eang said Sunday.

Both Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch face a series of lawsuits launched by Funcinpec for accusing Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the royalist party and the Assembly, of taking bribes to join the CPP in its current coalition government.

In an e-mail message from Sam Rainsy to his party spokesman Ung Bun-Ang, dated Friday, the opposition leader said he would be meeting with government officials and human rights organizations in Europe and North Amer­ica. He wrote that he would re­turn to Phnom Penh as soon as he receives a court summons.

The US Embassy, US State De­partment and some US senators, as well as local and international rights groups, have blasted the Assembly’s decision, calling it a political blow to the opposition.

Retired King Norodom Siha­nouk also weighed in on the issue from Beijing, where he is seeking medical treatment.

“The situation is worsening—when a clemency coming from our leaders could have or could restore unity and national fraternity to our nation,” Norodom Siha­nouk wrote in a note on his Web site.

(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)


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