Despite the lack of charges or an arrest warrant and no summons for questioning on the horizon, the National Assembly yesterday stripped the parliamentary immunity of Chan Cheng.
The National Assembly voted 88 to 9 in favour of stripping the immunity of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian yesterday in a 20-minute decision that was not debated.
“On December 9, the parliament received a letter from the Justice Ministry that had been sent to the ministry from the Kandal Provincial Court prosecutor requesting parliamentary immunity for [Chan Cheng] be stripped so he could be questioned in relation to a criminal complaint against him,”
National Assembly President Heng Samrin told parliament.
The “criminal complaint” is the Kandal prosecutor’s accusation that Chan Cheng helped a man escape from detention.
Article 7 of the law on parliamentarians states that any parliamentarian who acts in a penal offence cannot be accused, arrested or detained without first having their parliamentary immunity stripped, Heng Samrin said before the landslide vote.
However, no crime was ever committed, SRP parliamentarians said at a press conference outside the National Assembly, held while the assembly – of which the ruling CPP holds 90 of 119 seats – voted to remove Chan Cheng’s immunity.
“The accused man they say Chan Cheng helped escape from prison was never arrested, never charged and walked out of the police office freely on the day he was brought there,” SRP spokesman Son Chhay said at the press conference.
Son Chhay said he had a letter from two eyewitnesses – a lawyer and the official in charge of the prison centre – stating that not only did Chan Cheng not aid a crime, but that there was no crime.
“At the time the accused person was brought to the prison centre, there were no court officials with arrest documents,” Son Chhay read from a letter sent by the prison official to the Kandal Provincial Court.
“A lawyer came and said that because there was no warrant, we could not detain his client, so the lawyer and the accused man walked out of the prison centre.
“The decision of parliament president [Heng Samrin] is clearly an illegal action,” Son Chhay said. “That’s why we requested to have a special joint investigating commission to investigate before making any judgment for [Chan Cheng].”
Chan Cheng joins a growing list of parliamentarians who have had their immunity stripped under a 2006 law many consider draconian. Opposition MPs Mu Sochua, Ho Vann, Cheam Channy and SRP leader Sam Rainsy have all seen their immunity stripped after being accused of criminal acts.
Despite accusations commonly failing to lead to indictments, none of the opposition parliamentarians who have had their immunity stripped have had it restored.