Taking on the role of the country’s moral voice, retired King Norodom Sihanouk weighed in on the controversy surrounding the removal of three opposition lawmakers’ immunity, rebuking both the Assembly and the Sam Rainsy Party.
Writing from Beijing, where he is undergoing medical examinations, Norodom Sihanouk admonished the Assembly for stripping the immunity of Sam Rainsy and his fellow opposition lawmakers Chea Poch and Cheam Channy during a closed-door session.
At the same time, he also chided Sam Rainsy and urged the opposition leader to provide proof to back up his accusations that Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh took bribes.
“The National Assembly was wrong to prevent the diplomats, the journalists and other observers accredited to ‘see’ and to ‘hear,’” Norodom Sihanouk wrote in the letter, which was posted on his Web site and dated Sunday.
“What is not transparent becomes shady. And even a right act becomes a wrong act, “he said. “All this is not good for the reputation of our democracy, which was already questionable and questioned before this affair.”
Norodom Sihanouk went on to reprimand Sam Rainsy for ordering the establishment of a “shadow” Cabinet to oversee government military activities.
Opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy, who was arrested by military police shortly after the Assembly stripped him of immunity last week, remains in detention at the Military Court for his involvement in this shadow Cabinet.
While the Sam Rainsy Party has maintained that the organization, which Cheam Channy was heading, was a legitimate one, the government has accused him of organizing a so-called illegal armed force.
Norodom Sihanouk, however, said that any group established to infiltrate the military was wrong.
“According to international laws, trying to find out what is happening with the National Security of a country amounts to espionage and may cost a great deal,” he wrote.
He added that in some countries, doing so would carry the death penalty.
RCAF should not be considered part of the CPP, but legally symbolizes the national security of the country, he said.
“It would be difficult even for the nice King Norodom Sihamoni to pardon one or a few spies or traitors, unless with the total agreement of Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” he wrote.
As for the defamation lawsuits against Sam Rainsy and opposition lawmaker Chea Poch—both of whom have gone into self-imposed exile in the US—Norodom Sihanouk said they should show proof to back up their allegedly defamatory statements.
Both lawmakers are accused of having charged that Prince Ranariddh took bribes to join a coalition government with the CPP.
“[A]ccording to previous statements by Sam Rainsy himself, this was absolutely not an ‘opinion’ but a formal accusation. Sam Rainsy himself had added in public that he had files, proofs of these bribes,” Norodom Sihanouk wrote. “It is therefore now or never the time to show the Court and the public those files or proofs.”
Norodom Sihanouk said King Norodom Sihamoni, who replaced his father as king only four months ago, had been inundated with letters from Sam Rainsy Party members, asking for his help.
“This is truly a Herculean task. Since the nice King Norodom Sihamoni is too modest to compare himself to Hercules, he has asked or will ask…Samdech Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen to look with as much benevolence as possible into the Sam Rainsyists’ various requests,” the retired King wrote.
Also on Wednesday, Funcinpec and CPP officials lashed out at the US for its condemnation of the removal of the parliamentarians’ immunity.
“America and Cambodia have different systems,” Funcinpec lawmaker You Hockry said, addressing the Assembly. “America has no immunity. The outsiders don’t understand.”
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap echoed his comments.
“A number of American individuals, it seems, are interfering with the internal affairs of the Cambodian National Assembly,” he said. “The Cambodian National Assembly made [such a decision] because the Ministry of Justice requested [to pursue] the lawsuits. All the process has been conducted lawfully.”
The US, Britain and the UN office of human rights have all expressed concern over the possible implications of the Assembly decision.
US Senator Mitch McConnell, an ardent critic of the Hun Sen-led government, has been among the most vocal critics calling for donors to consider sanctions against the country.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)