US Envoy: Speech Law an Act of ‘Self-Castration’

The controversial new law scrapping lawmakers’ right to speak free­ly in parliament has sparked con­cerns among rights workers and the US Embassy that Cam­bodia has taken a step backward from de­mocracy.

The US Embassy Thursday call­ed the passage of the law an “his­toric event” that has emasculated the National Assembly.

“Historically there have been isolated instances of individuals being cas­­trated, but this may be the first in­stance of collective self-castration,” US Ambassador Joseph Mus­so­meli said in an e-mailed statement. “That they are freely giving up their freedom is stunning,” he con­­tinued.

Mussomeli said there are virtually no other countries enacting similar legislation. “It clearly sets the Cam­bodian Assembly apart from vir­t­ually all others,” he added.

The law, which CPP and Func­inpec parliamentarians voted in favor of Wednesday, opens the way for lawmakers to be charged with crim­inal offenses without their par­lia­­mentary immunity first being re­moved.

It states that lawmakers cannot use their immunity to abuse an in­dividual’s dignity, public order, so­cial customs or national security. Law­makers can also be arrested im­mediately if they commit a “serious crime,” which the law does not at­tempt to define.

Several parliamentarians who voted for the law said that they did so because an additional chapter that gave them a lifelong pension and funeral expenses attracted them.

“Some lawmakers were happy about the pension and their funeral serv­ices,” Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Keo Remy said Thursday. “But they didn’t realize that the law hid some articles that force the lawmakers into difficulties in doing their work,” he said, adding that the law reflected poorly on the country. “This regime is a fake democratic re­gime,” he said.

The UN Development Program, which funds a parliamentary strengthening project in Cambodia, reacted cautiously, stating that it wants to see the Assembly permit its members the freedom to do their jobs.

“We do not have a legal opinion on the virtue of the law since we have not seen it yet,” UNDP spokes­­man Men Kimseng said in an e-mail. “However, we want to see that the Cambodian parliament fol­­lows democratic principles where its members shall enjoy the free­dom of speech and immunity dur­ing the exercise of his/her func­­tions as stipulated in Article 80 of the Cambodian Constitution.”

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Kem Sokha, who was imprisoned earlier this year after being accused of defaming the government, said the law shows that the Assembly is “going back­ward.”

“I don’t know why the lawmakers made a law to tie themselves up,” he said. “The ruling party might think that it is good but they will realize their error when the small parties control the government,” he added.

Thun Saray, director of local rights group Adhoc, also said the law is an attempt to handicap the min­ority.

The problem is that those who vot­ed for it may one day be in the minority and be at a disadvantage, he said. “The lawmakers only think of the short-term benefits, not the long­ term,” he said.

Government spokesman and In­for­m­ation Minister Khieu Kan­ha­rith said the law is designed to stop the opposition from defaming the government. “They can criticize the government but not de­fame the gov­ernment,” he said.

British Embassy Deputy Head of Mission John Mitchell said that the em­bassy would need more time to study the law before commenting. The embassies of France and Australia both declined comment.


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