National Assembly President Heng Samrin has rejected a request for the restoration of immunity for Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, who was stripped of her immunity in 2009 in connection with a now-resolved legal dispute with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In response to a letter sent by a group of 17 SRP parliamentarians earlier this month, Heng Samrin said that according to the Kingdom’s criminal procedure code, the assembly needed to wait for permission from the Ministry of Justice before restoring Mu Sochua’s immunity.
This permission, he said, could only come one year after Mu Sochua finished repaying the fine levied in her case, or as early as September this year.
“I would like to tell your excellencies that the assembly does not now have the ability to consider the restoration of Her Excellency Mu Sochua’s immunity because Her Excellency has not received rehabilitation
from the court,” Heng Samrin wrote. In January, the Ministry of Justice wrote a letter to the National Assembly stating that Mu Sochua could remain without her parliamentary immunity for up to five years.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Bun Hun, an undersecretary of state at the ministry in charge of penal cases, declined to comment.
The SRP letter called for the immediate restoration of Mu Sochua’s immunity, claiming that its continued withholding constituted an attempt at political intimidation.
Opposition lawmaker Ho Vann, one of the MPs who signed the original letter, said yesterday that he saw no legal basis for the assembly’s refusal to act in Mu Sochua’s case.
“I have seen nothing stating that we must wait for an answer from the Justice Ministry before we receive immunity,” Ho Vann said.
“I think Samdech Heng Samrin, the assembly president, has the complete right to restore Her Excellency Mu Sochua’s immunity.”
Mu Sochua’s parliamentary immunity was suspended in 2009 to allow for her prosecution in a defamation case brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Her highly publicised legal battle with the premier started in April that year, when she filed a defamation suit against Hun Sen in relation to comments he allegedly made about her during a speech in Kampot province.
The Premier countersued and the court ruled against her, ordering her to pay 16.5 million riel (US$4,084) in fines and compensation.
Though Mu Sochua refused to pay – saying she was willing to go to jail if necessary – the court issued an order authorising the docking of her salary for four months.
In a statement issued last month, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights called for Mu Sochua’s immunity to be restored immediately, citing “the absence of clear provisions expressly allowing for the refusal to restore parliamentary immunity to a member of the National Assembly who has been convicted of a crime but not sentenced to a term of imprisonment”.