The charges of “leading an insurrection” brought against seven CNRP lawmakers-elect after a violent protest last month now appear dead in the water, with their lawyers saying a Phnom Penh judge has told them he cannot question them over the case because they have sworn in as lawmakers.
The seven lawmakers, along with another party official, were released on bail hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy struck a deal on July 22 to end the opposition’s boycott of the National Assembly. Three CNRP Youth activists remain imprisoned on related charges.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was issued a summons late last month calling him to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday for questioning over the July 15 protest at the center of the charges. Mr. Sokha sent two lawyers to the court to represent him Monday.
“I and the other lawyer, Chan Chen, went to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in the role of defense lawyers for His Excellency Kem Sokha, but the investigating judge didn’t question us,” said Meng Sopheary, one of the lawyers, referring to Judge Keo Mony.
“He informed us that he couldn’t question either us or our client since he is a lawmaker, and therefore he would be wrong for having questioned a lawmaker,” Ms. Sopheary said.
Ms. Sopheary said that despite the judge’s decision, no ruling has been issued to drop the charges against the lawmakers.
“The investigating judge, Keo Mony, told us that he sent a report to the Justice Ministry seeking an opinion from [the] National Assembly about the case,” Ms. Sopheary said.
Judge Mony could not be reached for comment.
The eight CNRP officials, led by senior opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, were jailed in the week between the July 15 protest and the July 22 deal after a violent brawl broke out between protesters and Daun Penh district security guards, leaving a number of the uniformed guards seriously injured.
A CNRP public affairs official, Oeur Narith, who was arrested and bailed with the seven, is still due to be questioned by the court later this week, defense lawyers said.
The three youth activists arrested in a separate and surprise sweep just three days before the CNRP lawmakers were sworn in to office remained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison last night.
CNRP defense lawyer Ket Khy said that he met with Appeal Court President You Bunleng on Monday to inquire about the state of an appeal against a ruling from Judge Mony two weeks ago rejecting bail for the CNRP youth organizers.
“I met with the Appeal Court President You Bunleng today,” Mr. Khy said. “He told me that the date for the bail hearing has not yet been set but that he appointed a judge, Seng Sivutha, to work on the case, so we hope the bail hearing…will be soon.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy claimed last week that he has received personal assurances from Interior Minister Sar Kheng that the appeal will be approved and the three activists released.
In a speech Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen also raised the issue of whether the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers will receive back-pay for the 10 months that they boycotted the National Assembly, claiming the total compensation would amount to almost $1 million.
“Don’t mention the salary issue by requesting assistance from the prime minister or the president of the National Assembly,” Mr. Hun Sen said, directing the opposition’s lawmakers to ask for a ruling from the Constitutional Council of Cambodia.
“I will respect the decision made by the CCC. Don’t say that Mr. Hun Sen is a narrow-minded person. That money is national money, it’s from the taxpayers,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy said Monday that the CNRP had no immediate plans to lodge such a request with the CCC but would consider the issue.
“I haven’t thought about that. It is not a concern and even less a priority,” he said. “People might think it was a motivation among others, that we want our back pay, but this is wrong and I don’t even want to raise it.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)
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