An opposition lawmaker was yesterday sentenced to two years in prison by the Kandal provincial court for “aiding and abetting” a local official’s escape from police detention in 2011, his lawyer said.
The verdict was swiftly slammed as politically motivated by the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Chan Cheng, who was elected to represent Kandal in the National Assembly in 2013, was convicted despite holding parliamentary immunity.
Cheng was summonsed to stand trial on the long-dormant charges in July last year as seven other CNRP lawmakers were being held in Prey Sar prison in connection to a Freedom Park protest that turned violent.
His lawyer, Sam Sokong, said yesterday that two others accused in the case – Kien Svay district councillor Meas Peng, the alleged escapee, and CNRP lawyer Choung Choungy – were also convicted.
Peng was given an 18-month sentence yesterday for escaping police custody in September 2011 when Banteay Dek commune's then-deputy chief was detained for allegedly inciting land protesters to destroy private property.
At the time, Choungy, who was representing Peng, said he told police they had arrested his client without a court warrant and freely walked out of the provincial prison with him, before being driven away by Chan Cheng.
Choungy – a well-known opposition lawyer and an adviser to National Assembly first deputy president Kem Sokha – was also sentenced yesterday to two years.
Sokong said that, by handing down a verdict, the Kandal court had ignored Cheng’s constitutionally provided parliamentary immunity.
He cited a letter sent to the court on Wednesday outlining the fact that Cheng’s immunity would have to be stripped first by the National Assembly before a verdict could be handed down.
“[But the judge] still announced the verdict, ignoring our request,” Sokong said.
Cheng said he would appeal the decision. “I am a lawmaker with immunity. Not only in terms of issuing a verdict, but also for arrest or detention, none of this can happen to me. So I can say it’s completely politically motivated,” he said.
In December 2011, Cheng, who was then a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, had his immunity stripped by the National Assembly following a request by the Kandal court.
But the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers elected in 2013 gained immunity when they officially swore-in to parliament last August after a lengthy boycott.
Chheang Vun, a senior ruling CPP lawmaker and a National Assembly spokesman, yesterday claimed that Cheng’s current immunity is not applicable to a crime committed in 2011.
“If the parliament stripped his immunity at that time, the court is able to continue with the case until now, because the crime was not committed [under] his current immunity,” he said.
Vun said that while Cheng could not be arrested immediately if he appealed the decision, he would automatically lose his immunity if a final verdict is handed down by a higher court after appeals.
Kim Meng, the judge who handed down the verdict, could not be reached.
CNRP leader Sam Rainsy agreed the case was related to politics and said Cheng was “definitely protected by his parliamentary immunity”.
“I expect all the cases to be fairly solved when all problems related to recent politics are solved,” he said, declining to elaborate further on what problems he was referring to.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH