National Assembly President Heng Samrin yesterday intervened to prevent Interior Minister Sar Kheng from being summoned for questioning at the National Assembly over the July 10 murder of political analyst Kem Ley, saying it would interfere with court procedures.
Opposition lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, who heads the assembly’s commission on human rights, had on Wednesday summoned Kheng to appear on January 12, but Samrin, through whom such summonses must be sent to ministers, yesterday refused to pass it on.
“Heng Samrin, the president of the National Assembly, has decided not to deliver this letter to the government to invite [Kheng] to clarify, because Kem Ley’s case is in the competence of the court,” a press release from the National Assembly explained.
“Both the National Assembly and the government do not have the rights to interfere in the courts.”
Chhay Eang had wanted to quiz Kheng on why authorities have not made any progress in their investigations into the slaying of Ley, who was shot dead at point blank range while preparing to drink his morning coffee at a central Phnom Penh gas station almost six months ago.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has publicly said he believes Prime Minister Hun Sen was behind the murder. Yet the premier has denied any role in the slaying of the critical political commentator, and has sued both Rainsy and opposition Senator Thak Lany for making the claim.
Chhay Eang yesterday said he regretted Samrin had refused to forward the letter of summons and that the assembly had every right to summon Kheng and hold him to account as the minister overseeing police.
“According to the internal regulations [of the assembly] and the Constitution, the legislative body observes the processes of the government and has the right to raise questions and summon representatives of the government to clarify about anything,” he said.
“I would regret it if the National Assembly did not play this kind of role,” the lawmaker added.
Meas Ny, a political analyst who had been a friend of Ley, said that he believed it odd that the head of the assembly was making such a judgment, and said it looked as if they were protecting Kheng. “If the parliament itself is rejecting this, it looks very awkward and like a loss of independence [for the assembly],” he said. “It is like the parliament is responding in the place of the interior minister.”
Separately, Kheng said during a speech at an anti-trafficking conference yesterday that he had been ignoring phone calls from deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha as he was too busy with work.
The pair were scheduled to meet this week to discuss the fate of the four human rights workers and an elections official who were imprisoned in April in connection to Sokha’s “prostitution” case. Sokha was ultimately convicted for failing to honour a court summons in the case, but the CNRP deputy leader was pardoned this month.
“I have been too busy in recent days. I saw Kem Sokha’s missed calls, but I did not call him back. In fact, we are still keeping the culture of dialogue . . . [but] if he wants to meet soon, we cannot,” Kheng said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Sokha was ready to meet Kheng. “If there’s news, we’ll announce it, because it is important news that needs to be announced quickly,” he said.
“But there’s no news.”
Ly Sophana, a spokesman for the municipal court, said he could not comment on the fate of the five in prison until an investigating judge issued a decision on whether to proceed with a case against them.
“According to procedures, the investigating judge will issue a resolution letter to inform [people] about the investigation. We have not yet heard what the judge has decided,” Sophana said. “We maintain our rights not to answer because it could affect the decision of the judge.”