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
"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."