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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gagging MPs likened to Khmer Rouge

Gagging MPs likened to Khmer Rouge

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has blasted a law approved recently by the National

Assembly (NA) and has claimed its passage shows that Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's

Party (CPP) is using the same methods to rule the country as the Khmer Rouge regime

that killed millions of Cambodians.

Rainsy's remarks were sparked by the NA's approval of a law restricting the parliamentary

privilege of legislators to exercise free speech. Approved on August 31, Article

5 of the Law on the Stature of Parliamentarians makes it illegal to "abuse an

individual's dignity, social customs, public order and national security."

The law, voted for unanimously by CPP and Funcinpec MPs, allows lawmakers to be charged

with criminal offenses without their parliamentary immunity first being waived.

"This law is repressive and against all democratic principles," Rainsy

said. "Cambodia is killing its own parliament."

Rainsy told the Post he believes the law will be used selectively, first to target

the opposition and then any dissidents within the CPP. He said the CPP is behind

every law that is passed and expressed little hope for annulment.

"They will overcome any barriers to get this passed," he said. "First

they will order the Senate and the Constitutional Council to reject the SRP's call

to have the law annulled because it's unconstitutional. They will say this despite

common sense. Then they will put pressure on the King to sign off on the law. They'll

make the King understand he had better not object."

In a press conference held on September 4, senior CPP lawmaker Ek Sam Ol dismissed

criticism of the law from all quarters.

"We are accused falsely. This law is not a political tool to intimidate the

opposition or the parliamentarians," he said. "The contents of the law

are very good. There should not be criticism of a law adopted by the National Assembly

because it represents the voice of the Cambodian people."

But Rainsy said there is a direct link between the recent law and the culture of

fear and uncertainty that permeated Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

"The CPP regime is the continuation of the Khmer Rouge regime," Rainsy

told the Post on September 6. "There is no difference in nature between the

two regimes. The difference is only in the intensity of the approach. The approach

is to lead people through fear, hunger and ignorance. Under the Khmer Rouge this

was used in extreme, but the same three elements prevail today and are still the

instruments used to lead the country."

Although the law has also been decried by civil society, human rights groups and

the US Embassy, the CPP is firm in its defense of the legislation and eager to lampoon

Rainsy on the grounds that 10 Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) lawmakers also voted to pass

the law.

"If he thinks the current government regime is like Pol Pot's, it would be better

for him to go and live on another planet," said CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap.

"You can see that the law was approved by 93 out of 94 parliamentarians and

the CPP has only 73 and some were absent, so the other two parties also joined the

approval. But later on the SRP asked to annul the law. They are not clear with themselves

and they are showing their ignorance to ask to annul a law which they already approved."

According to Rainsy, the lawmakers' vote was not a "sell-out," but a gaff

produced by the rare absence of both hImself and SRP whip Son Chhay.

"They were a little bit lost. When they pulled their heads out they realized

they made a mistake," Rainsy said. "Some have said that we sold out for

a pension fund and funeral expenses, but this isn't true. We've fought for years.

We've given our lives and many of us have died. We won't sell out for these petty


Rainsy said his party has submitted a petition to the Constitutional Council asking

that Article 5 be struck from the law because it violates Article 80 of the Constitution.

He maintains that the law is politically motivated.

"There are two reasons for the free speech ban," he said. "One is

reason is the approaching elections. If the truth prevails the CPP will lose. The

second reason is the scandals everywhere: Heng Pov, the World Bank and the National

Assembly building. The CPP doesn't want the truth exposed. The message is to keep

quiet, or go to jail.

This a very risky time for the opposition."



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