The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has asked the National Assembly to strip the parliamentary immunity of SRP President Sam Rainsy over a defamation and disinformation suit filed against the opposition leader by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong.
In a letter dated Monday to National Assembly President Heng Samrin, a copy of which was obtained Tuesday, Phnom Penh Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savouth and Deputy Prosecutor Ek Cheng Huot ask that Sam Rainsy have his immunity stripped in order to facilitate a court investigation of the lawmaker.
The subject line of the letter to Heng Samrin reads, “Object: To request temporarily stripping the immunity of Sam Rainsy, who is a Phnom Penh lawmaker.” (The SRP leader is actually a lawmaker for Kompong Cham province.)
The letter continues, outlining Sam Rainsy’s alleged offense.
“April 17, 2008, at Choeung Ek [killing fields] Sam Rainsy said that the deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister was the former Boeng Trabek prison director,” the prosecutors’ letter reads.
Boeng Trabek was a prison camp where Cambodian intellectuals and members of the royal family were held during the Khmer Rouge regime. Hor Namhong, who was detained at Boeng Trabek, has vigorously denied ever being the camp’s director. He has already won two lawsuits against people who have put forward that claim and has noted that he lost family to the Khmer Rouge.
“Hor Namhong filed a lawsuit against Sam Rainsy for defamation and disinformation,” the letter continues, adding, “After an initial investigation, the prosecution has collected evidence that Sam Rainsy is suspected of defamation and disinformation.”
Deputy Prosecutor Ek Cheng Huot confirmed Tuesday evening that he had signed the request to strip Sam Rainsy’s immunity, but declined to comment further.
Sam Rainsy said by telephone that the move to take away his immunity was meant to intimidate him and his party.
“It is a threat. The CPP is concerned that its grassroots-level members have been increasingly supporting the SRP,” he said, adding that it would be some time before his immunity could be stripped given that the National Assembly had already closed its doors ahead of the election.
“I will not flee, and I am not afraid,” Sam Rainsy said. “I am not afraid of being arrested, as I said, I wanted to replace Dam Sith,” he added, referring to the pro-SRP newspaper editor who was recently put in pretrial detention for a week for publishing Sam Rainsy’s comments about Hor Namhong. Sam Rainsy had publicly offered to take Dam Sith’s place in prison.
CPP Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said Tuesday that as it was nearing the election campaign period, it was unlikely that the Assembly could convene the 83 lawmakers needed to strip Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity. However, the Assembly’s permanent committee—which consists of just 12 lawmakers—could convene to “suspend” the SRP leader’s immunity.
Nguon Nhel said that under a suspension of immunity, the court would have the right to investigate Sam Rainsy and call him in for questioning, but would not be able to arrest him.
He said the move by the court was in no way politically motivated.
“People are equal before the law; we don’t wait under any circumstances even though it is close to the election,” he said. “It is not due to pressure from the government, and we comply with the law—we do not pressure.”