CNRP acting president Kem Sokha and two fellow lawmakers have declared that they will refuse to comply with a summons to appear in court in relation to the alleged Sokha sex scandal.
Following a meeting of CNRP representatives in the capital yesterday, Sokha and CNRP lawmakers Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana released a statement saying they had protection under Article 80 of the constitution, which grants lawmakers immunity and entitles them to ignore the summons.
Sokha has been summonsed on May 11 in relation to a $1 million defamation case filed by social media celebrity Thy Sovantha for allegedly disparaging her in leaked audio recordings purportedly between the opposition leader and an alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty.
Vanchan and Ratana were asked to appear before the court on May 16 for questioning related to “prostitution”.
CNRP senior whip Son Chhay called on the government to stop violating the constitution, which he said they had been doing for “quite some time”.
“It’s a matter of respect for our constitution, and we will not accept any illegal or inappropriate behaviour by the court,” Chhay said. “This is the decided position – to not go.”
An invitation for questioning was also in violation of the constitution, he added.
However, Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer and former head of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said the Khmer translation of the word “summons” was closer to “invitation”, and that the court could invite lawmakers to appear before it. “But lawmakers have the right to decide whether they want to go or not,” he added.
If the court wished to issue a second summons, Sam Oeun said they would then need the National Assembly’s Standing Committee to lift a lawmaker’s immunity before asking him or her to appear before the court.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat said it was the trio’s prerogative whether to appear, but in any case, the court could use other methods as well. “If he [Sokha] does not want to come, it is his matter,” Socheat said. “The court has other procedures, but I can’t talk about the procedures now.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International on Tuesday released a statement saying it was clear that the CPP was looking to take down the political opposition once and for all and instill a “fear of reprisals” into civil society.
“The Cambodian authorities and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) must immediately end its ongoing and unlawful campaign to dismantle the political opposition and undermine the invaluable and legitimate work of the country’s human rights’ groups and political commentators,” it said.
During an appearance on television channel PNN, Anti-Corruption Unit boss Om Yentieng called a statement by Transparency International on the case slanderous, and said their actions could suggest they were part of the alleged “conspiracy” that has already seen several jailed.
He went on to call Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams – who released a similar statement – “Mr Sat Breth”, a Khmer term that translates to “devilish, hungry ghost”, adding that Adams’ comments had no basis in law.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara