The office of UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht on Monday joined the chorus of criticism against the National Assembly for stripping three opposition lawmakers of their immunity, while the Assembly canceled its Monday session due to a boycott by Sam Rainsy Party members.
In a statement, the UN Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights lashed out at the ruling parties and urged the Assembly to restore immunity to opposition leader Sam Rainsy and lawmakers Cheam Channy and Chea Poch.
“The Special Representative [Leuprecht] calls on the National Assembly to immediately restore immunity to all three members,” the statement read. “The lifting of the immunity and the arrest [of Cheam Channy] come as the latest of several actions in recent months which cast doubts on the commitment of the two parties in Cambodia’s coalition government, the Cambodian People’s Party and Funcinpec, to a genuine pluralistic democratic system.”
“These developments raise concerns about an increasingly autocratic form of government, and the future of democracy in Cambodia.”
In a separate statement dated Friday, the British Embassy also expressed concern over the removal of the three lawmakers’ immunity.
“The protection of the rights of Democratic opposition is important in a Democracy,” it stated. “We will be closely following events as they develop with our partners.”
Last week, the US Embassy and US State Department condemned the Assembly decision, while US Senator Mitch McConnell called for donors to consider sanctions against Cambodia.
In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser, Om Yentieng, on Monday defended the Assembly decision and dismissed Leuprecht’s calls to restore the lawmakers’ immunity.
“I think [Leuprecht’s] condemnation seems as though he does not look at our Constitution,” Om Yentieng said. “He regards himself even bigger than the court. I do not understand.”
An Assembly session scheduled for Monday was canceled due to lack of quorum after the opposition party’s 24 lawmakers boycotted the meeting in protest of the removal of their fellow party members’ immunity.
Assembly First Deputy President Heng Samrin said that only 85 CPP and Funcinpec lawmakers showed up for the session and that Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh was also absent.
Heng Samrin said the Assembly will try to meet again today.
But, opposition party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said his party will continue to boycott the Assembly “until there is a good solution.”
Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers will return to the Assembly only when the Assembly offers to restore their immunity and when the Military Court releases Cheam Channy, who was arrested Thursday, Eng Chhay Eang said.
Cheam Channy stands accused of organizing an illegal armed force, though the opposition party maintains he was merely heading an above-board “shadow Cabinet” to oversee the government’s military activities.
Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch, both of whom fled the country last week, face defamation suits launched by Funcinpec for alleging that Prince Ranariddh, who is also president of the royalist party, took bribes to join the CPP in a coalition government.
At the Military Court, where Cheam Channy was being held, investigating Judge Pok Pon said he refused to grant permission for other opposition lawmakers to visit their jailed colleague on Monday.
Pok Pon, said he also postponed questioning Cheam Channy because his lawyer, Mao Sophearith, was not present. Cheam Channy has not been questioned since his arrest Thursday.
“I have not questioned him yet, so why do we allow visitors to visit him before me?” Pok Pon said.
The judge said he had received a request from Mao Sophearith to release Cheam Channy on bail. He said he will make his decision within five days.