On the eve of June 15’s meeting of the National Assembly’s permanent committee, which is expected to strip opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua of her parliamentary immunity, Ms Sochua said the actions of the committee were “dictatorial” and “cowardly” for not putting the issue to a full vote of parliament.
CPP lawmaker and permanent committee member Cheam Yeap said on Sunday that the 12-member permanent committee will vote alone on whether to remove Ms Sochua’s immunity in order to allow the Phnom Penh Municipal Court pursue a complaint filed against her for defamation by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The issue would not be put to a vote of the full Assembly, said Mr Yeap, whose comments made it clear that the committee will vote in favor of removing Ms Sochua’s immunity.
“The suspension [of immunity] will allow the court to question her,” Mr Yeap said. “After the court process we will restore her immunity,” he said.
“National Assembly President Heng Samrin will then inform the National Assembly, during a session, of the permanent committee’s decision,” he added.
The National Assembly received a request from the Justice Ministry to lift Ms Sochua’s immunity on Friday. The prime minister’s lawsuit against Ms Sochua revolves around comments made by the lawmaker during an April news conference in which she announced that she was suing the premier for comments he made during a speech earlier that month. The prime minister countersued on the grounds that accusing him of defamation, was, in fact, defamatory.
Ms Sochua’s case has since been thrown out by the court, unlike the premier’s which will gain momentum from Monday’s decision of the Assembly committee.
“I am not a criminal or national traitor,” Ms Sochua said by telephone Sunday. “This is cowardly,” she said of the decision not to go for a full Assembly vote.
“For the permanent committee to suspend my immunity is just to protect the individual Hun Sen. This is a dictatorship and the CPP owns the National Assembly,” she added.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Sunday that the decision of whether to lift a lawmaker’s immunity lies with the entire National Assembly and not the 12-member committee, which is made up of nine CPP Assembly chairmen, the president and his two deputies.
“The permanent committee doesn’t have the right to suspend a parliamentarian’s immunity,” Mr Panha said.
“It would be a Constitutional problem if the permanent committee suspends [Ms Sochua’s] immunity.”
He added that allowing the permanent committee to make decisions on lawmakers’ immunity diminishes the value of the Constitutionally guaranteed protection.
“There is no value in being lawmakers if the parliamentarian immunities are easily lifted,” he said.
Mr Yeap, however, said that there was nothing illegal about the committee voting on Ms Sochua’s immunity.
“The permanent committee’s members are the representatives of the lawmakers,” he said.
Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, called on donors and others involved in legal reform in Cambodia to show support for Ms Sochua.
“The cards are stacked against Sochua, given that the National Assembly’s Standing Committee members are all CPP,” Mr Adam wrote in an e-mail late Sunday.
“Once again Hun Sen is orchestrating things in order to silence Cambodia’s political opposition. The CPP has a long history of lifting immunity to prosecute SRP parliamentarians on unjustified charges. Cambodia’s donors—particularly those who fund judicial and legal reform—should be weighing in now on these threats against Sochua.”