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Courts Seek to Pull Opposition Immunity

The National Assembly is not likely to meet in an emergency session following a request issued by Phnom Penh Municipal Court that opposition leader Sam Rainsy have his parliamentary immunity suspended, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

The National Assembly also has not yet received the request, said Nguon Nhel, first vice president of the parliamentary body.

The Sam Rainsy Party late Tuesday issued a copy of a letter from Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor E Chheng Huot, addressed to National Assembly President Heng Samrin through Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana.

The letter, dated June 16, requests the temporary suspension of the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is facing a defamation and disinformation suit.

"I am not concerned about the arrest at all," Sam Rainsy said Wednesday. An arrest by the ruling Cambodian People's Party would mean a loss of popularity for the CPP, he said.

The court has been investigating remarks made at an April 18 rally by Sam Rainsy implicating Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as a member of the Khmer Rouge, and E Chheng Huot said in his letter he had gathered enough evidence to suspect defamation.

"The National Assembly is likely unable to convene a two-thirds majority…to suspend Sam Rainsy's immunity, while the election campaign approaches, because many members of parliament have gone to the provinces to meet the people," Nguon Nhel said.

The move to strip Sam Rainsy of his immunity comes with the national election little more than a month away and follows the recent arrest of opposition newspaper editor Dam Sith on similar charges.

Police have also said they are opening an investigation into allegations made by opposition defectors that members of the opposition have been involved in violent plots against the government. Sam Rainsy has called such accusations "unbelievable."

The attempt to suspend Sam Rainsy's immunity met with criticism from one US Embassy official and a rights worker.

"We very much regret the legal controversy that has [come] on the eve of the election process," embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Wednesday. "We think it risks poisoning the open political atmosphere that is necessary for a fully democratic election process."

Ouk Vireak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called the request "a threat to Sam Rainsy, so that Sam Rainsy dare not speak freely."

"This is also a message to other parties so that they dare not do what they want," he said.