The National Assembly’s permanent committee voted to suspend SRP President Sam Rainsy’s parliamentary immunity Thursday following a request from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, a committee member said.
The move by the 12-member permanent committee appears to violate the Constitution, which states that a two-thirds vote of the entire Assembly is needed to strip a lawmaker of his or her immunity.
The Phnom Penh court was seeking to have Sam Rainsy’s immunity lifted so that it could proceed with a case concerning a 10 million riel ($2,500) fine handed to the SRP leader by the National Election Committee in August. Sam Rainsy has refused to pay, saying that the NEC’s fine, which was imposed for him having insulted the CPP on the campaign trail, had no merit.
Assembly foreign affairs commission chairman Chheang Vun, who is also a permanent committee member, said Thursday that the permanent committee has decided to suspend Sam Rainsy’s immunity so the Phnom Penh court can begin its work.
“We have agreed according to the Ministry of Justice’s request to suspend Sam Rainsy’s immunity so that the court can start working on Sam Rainsy’s case,” Chheang Vun said.
He added that the National Assembly is now on vacation, so the permanent committee was empowered to suspend Sam Rainsy’s immunity without the constitutionally required vote of the entire Assembly. Heng Samrin will inform all lawmakers of the decision during the next National Assembly session in early April, he said.
“Sam Rainsy’s immunity is suspended; he no longer has his parliamentarian immunity,” Chheang Vun said.
Sam Rainsy said Thursday that the permanent committee’s decision abused the Constitution.
“This is a political reason, they wanted to pressure SRP’s lawmakers’ freedom of expression,” he said.
Sam Rainsy added that he has already written to King Norodom Sihamoni seeking a pardon, and that he plans to donate the $2,500, which is demanded as a fine by the NEC, to the Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, condemned the permanent committee’s decision as an attack on free speech.
“This is wrong; it is a serious abuse against the lawmakers’ immunity which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” Koul Panha said. “It will impair the lawmakers’ freedom of speech.”
Article 80 of the Constitution states that once the permanent committee of the Assembly decides to remove a lawmaker’s immunity, “The decision made by the permanent committee of the Assembly shall be submitted to the Assembly at its next session for approval by a two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly members.”
Chheang Vun said he couldn’t recall under which precise legal basis the permanent committee was able to remove Sam Rainsy’s immunity on its own.
“We have relied on the Constitution, the National Assembly’s internal regulation and the lawmakers’ status,” he said, before declining further comment.