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."
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.
Rainsy and Poch face defamation charges over their allegations that Ranariddh
accepted a bribe from Hun Sen to form a coalition government last
The US Embassy issued a press release February 3 condemning the
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.
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.
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.
Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the developments and called for the release of
"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
"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."