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Rainsy summoned by court


Reporters beseiged Sam Rainsy at the Royal Palace during the coronation ceremonies. Rainsy has been called by the court to answer questions regarding defamation charges.

O pposition leader Sam Rainsy has announced he will go to court on November 5 to answer questions regarding defamation charges leveled against him.

Rainsy will accept an invitation from Yet Chariya, deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh municipal court, to discuss the lawsuit filed by Funcinpec president Norodom Ranariddh, according to a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) statement.

The legal action began in August this year after Rainsy alleged Ranariddh received a $30 million payoff from Prime Minister Hun Sen in return for forming a coalition government.

On November 3, Rainsy appealed to politicians around the world to help him fight government moves to strip his parliamentary immunity, lodging a complaint with the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva.

"Only a vigorous international protest can stop the drift toward totalitarianism in Cambodia, whose government heavily depends on international assistance for its survival," Rainsy said in a statement.

Rainsy said removal of his parliamentary immunity "will probably be the first step prior to my arrest and my prosecution before a politically subservient tribunal.

"My only crime is the continued criticism of the government, especially my denunciation of corruption in which are involved the country's top political leaders," said Rainsy's statement.

The parliamentary immunity of two other SRP members is also being challenged. Like Rainsy, Chea Poch, has been accused of defamation for saying Ranariddh accepted a bribe, while Cheam Channy stands accused of forming a militia group for his role in the party's shadow defense cabinet, known as "Committee 14".

Under the 1993 constitution, all members of the National Assembly are granted immunity to express opinions in the course of their duties, but this privilege can be removed by a vote of two-thirds of the assembly.

With no further sessions scheduled for the National Assembly this year, an extraordinary meeting would be required to hold a vote.

"We hope that the National Assembly will soon examine the request of withdrawal immunity and will allow the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to fulfil its function," said Tout Lux, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and Funcinpec member.

"Then [the court] can issue a formal charge against Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch in order to find justice for Funcinpec," said Lux, adding that the Ministry of Justice passed on the allegations against Cheam Channy to a Military Court.

While making his appeal for support, Rainsy was flanked by his lawyer, Som Chandyna, and Ron Abney, acting-director of the International Republican Institute, who said he was "very disturbed" about the government's "shameful" actions.

"It's a continuation of the power grab that started with formation of this coalition," said Abney, "outrage is the minimum" reaction needed from an international community that should also reconsider their aid to Cambodia.

Koul Panha, executive director of Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said it was inevitable some things discussed by members of the National Assembly would be deemed "wrong" by others, but parliamentarians had the right to free speech.

"[If] they just give their ideas, [the assembly] cannot remove their immunity," said Panha, adding that if Rainsy's immunity is taken away, parliamentarians would fear speaking out in the future.

A diplomat based in Phnom Penh told the Post it was likely the government would strip Rainsy's immunity, but said a royal pardon from new king Norodom Sihamoni could save the opposition leader from punishment.



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