Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha has been committed to stand trial for refusing to appear as a witness in a “prostitution” case against him built around an alleged affair with a hairdresser.
In what appears yet another blow to the value of parliamentary immunity, the opposition leader will face trial on an as-yet-determined date by order of investigating judge Than Leng, who filed the decision on Tuesday. “We have already taken action to investigate, this has been finalised and we have decided to send this case to trial,” wrote Than Leng, who was unreachable yesterday.
Sokha is charged with refusing to appear for a court summons, following an unsuccessful attempt by armed police to detain him, despite his constitutionally guaranteed immunity. The charge and the case upon which it rests are widely considered politically motivated.
Authorities claim that by ignoring the summons, Sokha committed a “flagrant” crime, which allows officers to ignore a parliamentarian’s immunity thanks to a constitutional loophole. The legal provision, which has been used to justify the arrest and detention of two other opposition lawmakers, is disputed by Sokha’s legal team, who yesterday said they would appeal the decision to send the case to trial.
“This offence is not a ‘red-handed’ offence, so we demand the parliament suspends or strips his immunity before they process the procedure,” said Sam Sokong, one of Sokha’s lawyers. The attorney further noted that Sokha’s immunity should have shielded him from an obligation to submit to questioning in the first place.
“Sending this case to trial is not correct,” he said. In the three months since the attempted arrest, the parliament has not done this. Its spokesman Leng Peng Long yesterday said no such request from the Justice Ministry had been received.
Meanwhile, Sokha has remained ensconced in his party’s headquarters, and authorities have thus far avoided another arrest attempt.
Speaking yesterday, a foreign lawyer well-versed in Cambodia’s legal system said regardless of whether Sokha’s failure to appear constituted a crime, the failure to remove his immunity before sending the case to trial was illegal.