As opposition leader Sam Rainsy met jailed Senator Hong Sok Hour and 14 party activists inside Prey Sar prison yesterday, the Senate was preparing to “pave the way” for further court proceedings against Sok Hour – preparations that concluded with the body effectively stripping the senator's parliamentary immunity.
The move seemingly invoked portions of Article 104 of the Cambodian Constitution, which states that senators are not subject to arrest without the body's advance permission, except when caught in the act of committing a crime, or in flagrante delicto.
At a meeting at the Senate yesterday, 47 ruling party senators voted to let the prosecution continue its ongoing case against Sam Rainsy Party member Sok Hour, who had been arrested at his home on Saturday.
The chamber’s 10 other SRP senators boycotted the session.
“The unanimous vote paved the way for the authorities, the court and the judicial police to continue the legal procedure,” CPP Senator and spokesman Mam Buneang told reporters after the meeting, adding that the Senate had examined a report prepared by police and the municipal court, a necessary step in invoking the in flagrante delicto clause.
Buneang went on to express regret that the SRP senators chose to boycott the meeting, saying they would have “gathered for discussion to find out the legal procedure for helping each other”.
But SRP Senator Mardi Seng last night said there would have been precious little to talk about.
“They know what they’ve done is wrong, so they didn’t even talk about it,” he said. “If he has immunity, they cannot arrest him or put him in prison or anything, so they didn’t even mention it.
There’s no procedure for this; they just bypassed the whole thing.”
Sam Rainsy – now head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, born of a merger between his SRP and the Human Rights Party – aired hope yesterday that his ongoing “culture of dialogue” with Prime Minister Hun Sen would hold the key to freeing both Sok Hour and 14 CNRP activists jailed on “insurrection” charges related to a July 2014 protest that turned violent.
“For concessions, [we] should probably stop poking each other, because sometimes we should not speak publicly,” he said. “If we speak out publicly, it does not result in a gain.”
Rainsy said that the CNRP and the ruling Cambodia People’s Party must share ideas to defend the national interests of the Kingdom, but added that the arrests demonstrate that his party – culture of dialogue or no – still represents a determined opposition.
“Imprisoning the leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party proves to the Cambodian people that the [party] is honest.
The [party] is not a subordinate of someone else,” he said.
“National Rescue Party leaders do not sell themselves to anyone. Because we are honest, because we are strong and clear, we are ill-treated.”
While admitting that no meeting has yet been scheduled, Rainsy said he expects himself and the prime minister to carve out a time to talk when it’s appropriate.
Praising Hun Sen as being reasonable, Rainsy added that he expected the detained CNRP members to be freed after the two sides finally discuss the issue.
But CPP spokesman Sok Eysan yesterday accused Rainsy of political posturing, as the opposition leader’s party has repeatedly in the past used the border issue to enflame temperaments and rouse supporters.
“I don’t think criticism is a problem,” he said. “But [in these cases] it is a serious criminal offence.
[They] light a fire, and there’s smoke. If they don’t light the fire, there will be no smoke.
If they don’t act, there is no [reason] to make arrests.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON