Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Immunity gone, Rainsy flees country

Immunity gone, Rainsy flees country

Immunity gone, Rainsy flees country

immunit.jpg
immunit.jpg

The removal of parliamentary immunity from opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two

of his colleagues has sparked outrage from former King Norodom Sihanouk, United

States senators and a leading human rights group.

Sam Rainsy finds himself yet again neck-deep in controversy after a secret National Assembly vote stripped him of his parliamentary immunity and sent him fleeing abroad.

In a closed-door

session, the National Assembly voted on February 3 to strip the politicians'

immunity, prompting Rainsy to flee the country and National Assembly member Chea

Poch to go into hiding.

MP Chea Channy was arrested later that evening

as he left the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) headquarters. He is being held at the

military prison in Phnom Penh on charges of organized crime, fraud and raising a

rebel army for the SRP.

In a letter dated February 10, SRP

parliamentarian Son Chhay asked Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of both the

Funcinpec party and the National Assembly, to release Channy, arguing his

detention breached the constitution.

Article 80 says "the accusation,

arrest, or detention of a member of [the National] Assembly shall only be made

with the permission of the assembly or by the Standing Committee of the Assembly

between sessions, except in [the] case of flagrante delicto."

The

assembly met briefly on the morning of February 3, and resumed after word spread

that the controversial issue of lifting the immunity had been added to the

agenda. SRP parliamentarians then left. Rainsy went to the US Embassy and was

escorted to the airport where he boarded a flight destined for Paris. Chea Poch

hid in Phnom Penh for several days before he too left the county.

Both

Rainsy and Poch face defamation charges over their allegations that Ranariddh

accepted a bribe from Hun Sen to form a coalition government last

year.

The US Embassy issued a press release February 3 condemning the

vote.

In a separate statement, US Senator Mitch McConnell called for

donors to act resolutely. "I strongly advise all international financial

institutions - particularly the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank - to

add there voice to their chorus of concern and to consider a suspension of

operations in Cambodia until the corrupt leaders get the message that tyranny

will not tolerated," McConnell wrote.

McConnell and Senator Bill Frist

wrote to US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice asking her to consider a US visa

blacklist for those who voted against Rainsy.

Former King Norodom

Sihanouk criticized the National Assembly's lack of transparency.

"The

National Assembly was wrong to convene its members behind closed doors to

discuss this and take a definite decision on this serious question of removing

the parliamentary immunity," he said January 6 on his website.

Sihanouk,

however, also said the SRP was wrong to "put in place a shadow army or 'a shadow

government'," and called on Sam Rainsy to present evidence to back his

corruption allegation against Ranariddh, the former King's son.

Human

Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the developments and called for the release of

Channy.

"If Sam Rainsy and his party members are prosecuted or expelled

from the parliament on such bogus grounds, the progress on political pluralism

made since the 1991 peace agreements will be lost," said Brad Adams, Asia

director of HRW.

Political observers in Phnom Penh said that while the

timing was odd - just days before a major World Bank conference - the removal of

immunity was a calculated move to damage the party regardless of international

backlash.

"I think [Prime Minister] Hun Sen has learnt he can do pretty

much anything he wants, and after a few days everyone stops talking about it,"

one western diplomat said.

"Sam Rainsy was gaining popularity. They

thought the sooner they act the better," he said. "It's become a little bit of a

vendetta, so Hun Sen was very glad to let Ranariddh do this dirty job."

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