Opposition Lawmaker Um Sam An Arrested

Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An was arrested at about midnight on Sunday in Siem Reap province for a crime related to his advocacy against Vietnamese border encroachments last year, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Monday morning.

Taking a liberal interpretation of the “in flagrante delicto” exception to a lawmaker’s constitutional immunity from arrest and prosecution, which allows for arrest when a lawmaker is caught red-handed, police arrested Mr. Sam An after his return from an extended stay overseas.

CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An is detained at the Interior Ministry's department of anti-terrorism and cross-border crimes on Monday morning. (Fresh News)
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An is detained at the Interior Ministry’s department of anti-terrorism and cross-border crimes on Monday morning. (Fresh News)

“Police arrested Um Sam An last night in Siem Reap,” General Sopheak said, explaining that the arrest was similar to that of opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour, who was also arrested despite his parliamentary immunity.

“The case of Um Sam An not different from the case of Hong Sok Hour, because he criticized the government about selling land to Vietnam and he also criticized the government for using fake maps,” he said.

It is not yet clear exactly what crime Mr. Sam An stands accused of committing.

Mr. Sok Hour was arrested in August last year on the order of Prime Minister Hun Sen after he used a fake diplomatic border treaty between Vietnam and Cambodia during a lecture—posted in a video to Facebook—at the height of the CNRP’s campaign against alleged Vietnamese border encroachments.

He remains in jail, in spite of his parliamentary immunity, with the CPP-dominated Senate having met and decided it did not have to strip his immunity because the video counted as “in flagrante delicto.”

Mr. Sam An himself was at the fore of that border campaign, often accusing the government of using Vietnamese-drawn border maps, even after Mr. Hun Sen said he would arrest anybody who leveled such accusations against the government.

Local media reported on Monday morning that Mr. Sam An was now being questioned by anti-terrorism police at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh but Gen. Sopheak said that he could not confirm the reports.

“I do not know where Um Sam An was detained. I wish to hide this information,” Gen. Sopheak said.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Mr. Sam An was still entitled to his immunity, as the National Assembly had not voted with a two-thirds majority to strip him of it. Neither party holds such a supermajority in parliament.

“It’s against the Constitution. Um Sam An is still a member of parliament, he has immunity and he yet was arrested last night in Siem Reap,” Mr. Sovann said, rejecting the idea that he was caught “in flagrante delicto.”

“This was a long time ago, and no one was talking about that. Before the arrival of Um Sam An, there was no information about that. He arrived in Cambodia, and then there was information,” he added.

Yet Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the arrest was legal given the “in flagrante delicto” exception to a lawmaker’s immunity from prosecution.

“This case is legal because according to the crimes of ‘in flagrante delicto,’ we do not need to remove any immunity,” he said.

But Mr. Malin said he could not yet specify exactly what crime Mr. Sam An had been caught doing.

“I cannot give further comment,” he said. “We are currently filing some documents and I can explain later.”

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