During an otherwise routine National Assembly session to make amendments to the Senate Election Law, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday took the opportunity to criticise the assembly for not adhering to immunity laws after the arrests and convictions of lawmakers Um Sam An and Senator Hong Sok Hour.
Sam An and Sok Hour are serving two-and-a-half- and seven-year sentences, respectively, for Facebook posts accusing the government of ceding land to Vietnam. Their legal immunity was deemed by the government to not apply because they had been caught “in the act” of committing a crime.
“We cannot say all what he [Hong Sok Hour] expressed was right but we have to . . . make sure that immunity should be protected,” Chhay said.
Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Chheang Vun was quick to rebut, calling the duo’s actions racist and an attempt to divide Cambodian society.
“His Excellency [Son Chhay] has to understand that the action [against] them is according to the law. If you have immunity it does not mean you can do anything,” Vun said.
Ngim Nheng, meanwhile, seconded Chhay’s comments, calling on National Assembly President Heng Samrin to protect members.
“Please help to make sure lawmakers’ immunity is protected . . . We are lawmakers – we work by expressing ideas and if the expression is violated we would not work well,” he said.
To this, National Assembly President Heng Samrin responded that he backed all his members except those who committed “flagrante delicto”, or red-handed, crimes.
Son Chhay also used the occasion to bring up the issue of workers, especially those in garment factories, not being given days off in order to vote during the recently concluded commune elections.
In response, Interior Minister Sar Kheng asked the lawmaker not to use a debate on election law to bring up a separate issue, instead asking him to send a letter to the relevant authorities.
“I think this is not the right time to answer and there’s no need to answer because now we are talking about law, but you have asked something else,” Sar Kheng said.
In the end, the assembly did pass amendments to the Senate Election Law, which largely serve as updates to conform with prior changes to the National Assembly and commune election laws.
The vote also cemented the date for the upcoming Senate elections on January 14 and added one additional seat, increasing the body to 62 members.