The sentencing of an opposition member of parliament in Kandal province on Friday was not legal and just the latest application of pressure on the opposition ahead of the passage of two sensitive electoral reform laws, a legal expert and analysts have said.
A Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker for Kandal, Chan Cheng, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for “aiding and abetting” a local official’s “escape” from custody in 2011.
In December of that year, Cheng was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in a landslide vote at the Cambodian People’s Party-dominated National Assembly.
Cheng was re-elected to represent Kandal in the 2013 election, but senior CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun on Friday claimed his immunity did not apply to the “crime” committed in 2011.
However, Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said this was a misinterpretation of the law.
“Right now he has immunity, so if he has immunity he cannot be charged; he cannot be arrested.”
Sam Oeun added that the long-dormant proceedings, which were restarted amid a tense political standoff in July last year, were deeply flawed and that evidence of a crime was lacking.
Meas Peng, then second deputy chief of Kien Svay district’s Bantey Dek commune, had been detained without an arrest warrant for allegedly organising a violent protest against a land owner involved in a dispute with local villagers.
After Choungy told prison director Muong Sam Ath the court had not issued a warrant, the deputy commune chief was allowed to leave, Sam Oeun said.
“When they went to the prison they asked, ‘Did you get a warrant?’ and the clerk showed the warrant but it had no [authorisation] stamp,” he said.
The departure was billed an “escape”, and Peng was sentenced to 18 months for leaving the prison “aided and abetted” by Cheng and his lawyer, Choung Choungy, who was also sentenced in absentia to two years on Friday.
Cheng was the latest of several opposition lawmakers charged by the courts since the 2013 election in what analysts say has been a concerted campaign to pressure the CNRP, first to take their seats in parliament, and later to agree to electoral reforms guided by the ruling party.
“What we are continuing to see is [Prime Minister] Hun Sen continuing to put pressure on the CNRP,” Ou Virak, an independent analyst and former president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said yesterday.
“As long as Hun Sen is doing it with the right amount of pressure, the [CNRP] will be split on how to respond to it.”
CNRP President Sam Rainsy could not be reached yesterday, and Cheng declined to comment on the sentencing.
Kem Ley, a former independent analyst who recently founded a new political “movement” said he thought the case against Cheng, Peng and Choungy would be dropped after the new laws on electoral reform and the National Election Committee were passed in the coming weeks.
“If [the CPP] gets what it wants from the electoral reform laws, they will drop the case.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA