The Ministry of Justice has asked National Assembly President Heng Samrin to see to it that two opposition lawmakers accused of procuring prostitution have their immunity from prosecution lifted so the case can move forward.
Such a move would require a two-thirds vote in parliament, however, meaning the CPP’s 68 lawmakers would need support from some counterparts in the CNRP.
The request relates to accusations that deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha took a mistress, which has already led to a CNRP commune chief, an election official and four human rights workers being jailed on bribery charges. Police also attempted to arrest Mr. Sokha on May 26 for failing to show up in court for questioning over the prostitution case.
A letter from Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana dated June 30 asked Mr. Samrin to strip the legal immunity of CNRP lawmakers Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana so that they could face charges of procuring prostitution.
“The Ministry of Justice received the letter…dated June 29, 2016, from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor with the request for the Ministry of Justice to carry out the procedure in order to request to strip the immunity of the two lawmakers,” the letter said.
“The Ministry of Justice would like to request that Samdech [Mr. Samrin], the president of the National Assembly, please…help to carry out the procedure of the request to strip the lawmakers’ immunity,” it said.
According to the Criminal Code, procuring prostitution can involve profiting from prostitution, aiding or organizing a transaction, or recruiting, inducing or pressuring someone into prostitution. The crime carries a prison sentence of two to five years.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said on Friday that the CNRP lawmakers were suspected of facilitating prostitution—apparently in relation to Mr. Sokha’s alleged extramarital affair with a 25-year-old hairdresser—by booking hotel rooms and flights.
“The municipal court prosecutor has the grounds and the procedure to charge the two lawmakers with [procuring] prostitution, but they are lawmakers with immunity so the court wants the National Assembly to strip their immunity,” Mr. Malin said.
The request stands in stark contrast to a controversial maneuver that the ruling party has used to imprison an opposition senator and parliamentarian over the past year: voting with a simple majority of lawmakers to prosecute them despite their legal immunity.
Mr. Malin said on Sunday that the Assembly had to formally remove the pair’s immunity because they were not caught in the act of committing the alleged crimes, in contrast to the other lawmakers. The Constitution only allows for the arrest of lawmakers if they are caught “in flagrante delicto,” which the government has extended to include Facebook posts.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said on Sunday that the request had been sent to the Assembly’s standing committee, which sets the agenda for parliament, but that it had not been discussed.
“What I can say is the National Assembly will proceed according to the law,” he said. Mr. Vanchan and Mr. Ratana could not be reached yesterday. Senior CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang called on the Assembly to follow legal procedures.
“They can’t strip a lawmakers’ immunity unless they have a two-thirds vote, but the ruling party doesn’t have enough seats,” he said.