The National Assembly did not know opposition leader Sam Rainsy had a standing defamation conviction when it allowed him to join the legislature in August 2014 and quickly moved to rectify that decision when it found out last year, its spokesman said on Monday in justifying the expulsion of the exiled lawmaker.
It was on the basis of Mr. Rainsy’s 2011 conviction for defamation that the Assembly ousted him on November 16 of last year—the day he had planned to return to Cambodia to stare down the resurrected jail sentence in the case, which he had believed was absolved by a 2013 royal pardon.
The CNRP at the time ridiculed the sudden reappearance of the two-year-old prison sentence, arguing the Assembly should not have allowed Mr. Rainsy to join the legislature in 2014 if the conviction still stood and accusing the parliament of skirting his immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker.
After a meeting of the Assembly’s standing committee on Monday, however, spokesman Leng Penglong said the parliament did not realize upon Mr. Rainsy’s return in 2013 that his pardon applied only to two other crimes. The National Assembly received a letter from the Justice Ministry notifying them of the fact on November 13, 2015—the date of the order to implement the warrant, Mr. Penglong said.
The defamation case was filed after Mr. Rainsy was accused in 2008 of saying then-Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had collaborated with his Khmer Rouge captors at Boeung Trabek prison camp between 1975 and 1979.
The spokesman said the timing issue had been raised in the committee meeting by CNRP lawmakers Eng Chhay Eang and Yem Po-nhearith, who also challenged the Assembly’s recent broad interpretations of exceptions to lawmaker immunity for “red-handed” crimes.
Mr. Ponhearith, who is also the CNRP’s spokesman in the Assembly, said after the meeting that he still believed the courts and CPP-led Assembly had collaborated to expel Mr. Rainsy.
“I think this is a story between the courts and the Assembly…. We just think it is part of a lack of implementation on this point of National Assembly immunity,” Mr. Ponhearith said.
Until Monday’s hearing, CNRP lawmakers had refused to participate in government proceedings, and CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrith said by telephone that the two lawmakers’ attendance did not represent the end of the CNRP’s Assembly boycott.
The boycott has been running since police attempted to arrest deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha despite his immunity.