Kandal Provincial Court has charged beleaguered SRP lawmaker Chan Cheng with helping a detainee escape, an offense punishable by up to three years imprisonment, a prosecutor said yesterday. A judge also disclosed that a second SRP lawmaker may have been involved in liberating the detainee from prison.
Provincial prosecutor Ouk Kimseth said that he charged Mr. Cheng on Friday for providing an escape vehicle for Meas Peng. Mr. Peng, deputy chief of Banteay Dek commune in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, had been charged with incitement for supporting villagers embroiled in a land dispute.
Late last month, Mr. Peng escaped from Kandal Provincial Prison allegedly with the help of Mr. Cheng before he could be placed in pretrial detention. Last Tuesday, Mr. Cheng was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and fled the country.
“If [Mr. Cheng] is found guilty, he faces punishment between one and three years in prison,” said Mr. Kimseth.
According to the penal code, Mr. Cheng could also face a fine ranging from 2 to 6 million riel, or about $500 to $1,500.
It is possible Mr. Cheng will not be facing the charges alone. Declining to speak at length, provincial Judge Lim Sokuntha said another lawmaker was present in the car at the time of the escape and helped facilitate the transportation.
“Of course, there were two lawmakers involved in assisting the prisoner to escape,” said Judge Sokuntha, adding that the identity of the second lawmaker has not yet been discovered. He referred further questions involving the alleged second lawmaker to Mr. Kimseth, who declined to comment on the matter.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he could neither confirm nor deny that a second parliamentarian was involved, but defended the transportation of Mr. Peng, noting there had been insufficient paperwork to keep the suspect imprisoned.
“Even if we had wings, we cannot fly over the high prison fence if there were adequate paperwork to detain our officials,” he said.
Kandal provincial prison chief Muong Sam Ath said he was not on the scene when Mr. Peng was taken away and was unaware of the possible second lawmaker, but disputed Mr. Sovann’s claim that the transport was legal.
“Mr. Cheng did wrong to drive the prisoner away,” he said, adding that the prison was hesitant to lock Mr. Peng in the detention facilities because they were awaiting a detention order from the court.
Spokesman Mr. Sovann called the charges against Mr. Cheng “unsurprising” and politically motivated, but senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap defended the court.
“Even if CPP lawmakers do something illegal, they must face punishment as stated by law,” he said, adding that Mr. Cheng’s charges had been made “wisely and independently by the judiciary system.”
Reacting to the stripping of Mr. Cheng’s immunity, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) and a coalition of 23 local NGOs, including Adhoc and Legal Aid Cambodia, released a statement stating that the National Assembly’s decision was a worrisome development considering the impending elections.
“CHRAC has noticed that the court system, National Assembly and some state institutions have been used by politicians to pressure…political activities, especially that of the opposition party,” the statement says, urging “the end of all intimidation and lawsuits [against the opposition] in consideration of the nation and people as a priority.”