Cambodia’s opposition lawmakers lashed out Thursday at what they called the government’s “use of the judiciary as a political tool” as the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced that it plans to put Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha on trial.
On Thursday, the court posted a notice dated Aug. 23 outside Kem Sokha’s house, saying that it has finished its investigation and plans to try the CNRP’s acting president for failing to appear as a witness in the government’s attempt to build a prostitution case based on an affair the lawmaker is alleged to have had with a 25-year-old hairdresser.
“The CNRP’s lawmakers take this as the use of the judiciary as a political tool to constantly persecute opposition members and their leaders that only escalates political tensions and hampers the future of free and fair elections,” the country’s 55 CNRP lawmakers said in a statement.
Kem Sokha has been holed up in the CNRP headquarters since heavily-armed police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in cases related to his alleged affair with Khom Chandaraty, who is also known as Srey Mom.
Under normal circumstance it takes the approval of two-thirds of the national assembly to lift a lawmakers’ immunity, but Kem Sokha’s was revoked under a clause in the Cambodian constitution that allows immunity to be lifted if a lawmaker is caught committing a crime red-handed.
CNRP lawmakers say the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party acted illegally by removing Kem Sokha’s immunity.
“We absolutely cannot accept the move by the prosecution and the investigating judge of the Phnom Penh Municipal court to forward His Excellency Kem Sokha’s case to trial without having his parliamentary immunity lifted first,” the lawmakers wrote in a statement.
“Such a move is a grave violation of the Constitution of Cambodia,” they said. “Failing to appear before the court as a witness does not constitute an in flagrante delicto.”
The lawmakers called on the court to drop the charges, and senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay told RFA’s Khmer Service that the statement is a first step taken to address the issue. It’s unclear what the next step is.
“We will wait and see,” he said. The CNRP leadership will meet and decide to cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Reported for RFA's Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm. Translated by Naret Moung. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.