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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comfrel criticises CPP over Rainsy

Comfrel criticises CPP over Rainsy

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The monitoring NGO say taking away the opposition leader's immunity was politically motivated.

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HENG CHIVOAN

Election monitor Comfrel criticised the stripping of Sam Rainsy's (right) immunity.  

ELECTION monitoring NGO Comfrel on Wednesday stated that the stripping of opposition leader Sam Rainsy's parliamentary immunity earlier this year was both controversial and politically motivated.

Sam Rainsy's immunity was removed after he refused in February to pay a US$2,400 fine levied by the National Election Committee for insulting senior members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party while campaigning in last year's general election.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for parliament to strip him of his immunity, something the Permanent Committee - whose 12-person membership is entirely composed of CPP lawmakers - did within days. Sam Rainsy subsequently paid the fine, and his immunity was restored last week.

"The fine and the stripping of [his] immunity remain controversial in terms of legal process and politics," Comfrel's nine-page report stated. "The process of removing and restoring the immunity of a member of parliament remains unclear and lacking in legal process."

Koul Panha, the executive director of Comfrel, told the Post Wednesday that parliamentary immunity should not be removed because of minor mistakes in expressing opinions.

"Immunity is very important to protect lawmakers from all kinds of abuses when expressing their opinions," Koul Panha said. "If their immunity is easy to remove - as was the case with Sam Rainsy - this is seriously intimidating with regard to freedom of expression on political issues."

Criticism is democratic

The report noted that criticism of political candidates during election campaigns was commonplace in democracies, and said those that criticised should not face penalties.

During campaigning in Kratie and Kampong Cham provinces last year, Sam Rainsy told his supporters that the three leaders of the CPP - Chea Sim, Hun Sen and Heng Samrin, who appear together on the party's billboards - had been "stealing the nation".

Yim Sovann, SRP spokesman and lawmaker, said the ruling by the NEC and the Constitutional Council - both of which ruled against Rainsy - was illegitimate. He said the matter was a penal one and should have been ruled on by the courts.

He said the fact that the CPP had a majority in the National Assembly meant it should prioritise resolving problems such as unemployment and the financial crisis.

"Suspending Sam Rainsy's immunity was a clear case of political intimidation, and it has had a serious effect on the roles and obligations of parliamentarians," Yim Sovann said.

NA denies intimidation claim

But Nguon Nhel, the vice president of the National Assembly and a CPP lawmaker, said that was untrue. He said the suspension was conducted according to due legal process and denied criticisms of political intimidation.

"Rainsy's case was not down to political pressure. The National Assembly ruled on the case in a democratic way and said that freedom of expression must be exercised under the terms of the law," Nguon Nhel said.

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