Cambodian Democracy Absorbs Another Blow as Assembly Strips Opposition MP's Immunity

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

December 20, 2011 - Phnom Penh (Dec. 20, 2011) - LICADHO condemns the National Assembly for its decision today to lift the parliamentary immunity of opposition party lawmaker Chan Cheng.

The vote, which took place Tuesday morning, was a politically-motivated attack against Cheng, who is a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) representing Kandal Province.

"Cambodia's democracy is already foundering, and this brings the system one step closer to becoming a total farce," said LICADHO's Director, Naly Pilorge. "The suspension of Chan Cheng's immunity renders the concept of parliamentary immunity meaningless. This is yet another disgrace for Cambodia's democracy."

The National Assembly is dominated by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and has previously stripped the immunity of opposition politicians under dubious circumstances.

In 2009, for example, the parliament voted to strip the immunity of SRP MP Mu Sochua after she announced her intent to file a defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen. Sochua herself was then charged with criminal defamation and convicted after her immunity was stripped. The parliamentary immunity of SRP founder Sam Rainsy has also
been suspended on two occasions. He was convicted on numerous charges in 2010 and now lives in exile to avoid going to prison.

The circumstances of Chan Cheng's case do not warrant the drastic step of lifting his immunity.

Chan Cheng is wanted for formal questioning over the disappearance of Meas Peng, an SRP commune council member from Kokei Thom Commune in Kandal's Kien Svay District. Peng was charged with trespassing on private property for his involvement in a longstanding land dispute with Prak Savuth, a member of the CPP and the former deputy governor of Kratie Province. The court was not able to summon Cheng for questioning due to his parliamentary immunity.

Cheng's involvement in Peng's case is tenuous. Peng himself was summoned by the court for questioning on Sept. 23, 2011, and ordered to be placed in pretrial detention. He was transported to prison, but the court had not yet issued a written detention order. Peng's lawyer intervened, insisting that Peng could not be legally detained without the written order. Ultimately, Peng was set free and left the prison in Chan Cheng's vehicle.

A written detention order was later issued for Peng, but by then he had disappeared. Authorities now want to question Chan Cheng, and possibly charge him with aiding and abetting a fugitive from the law. He denies any wrongdoing.

"Cambodia's infrastructure and economy may be developing, but we won't be taken seriously on the international stage until the government stops harassing the political opposition" says Naly Pilorge.

For more information, please contact:
 Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO, 012-803-650
 AM Sam Ath, Monitoring Supervisor, 012-327-770

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer