Parliament on Monday voted unanimously to allow the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to continue to proceed with a case against opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha despite a boycott from the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The vote by all 68 sitting Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers came as opposition MPs left parliament to receive a petition from CNRP supporters requesting King Norodom Sihamoni step in to mediate between the two rival parties.
The opposition supporters, however, were blocked from reaching their goal by police, but eventually managed to deliver the petition following some minor scuffles. Activists reported some arrests, but all were subsequently released.
Heng Samrin, National Assembly president, said following the vote that “parliament has provided approval for the authorities to continue the procedure on the case of Kem Sokha, lawmaker from Kampong Cham province,” without elaborating.
After the CPP-dominated parliament approved the motion, Son Chhay, chief opposition whip, said the vote was a violation of the constitution.
“When [the CPP] voted it was illegal and against the supreme law of the nation, the constitution…it was a serious violation,” he said.
He added that ruling party had shown it did not respect article 80 of the constitution, which guarantees immunity from prosecution for sitting lawmakers such as Kem Sokha, unless there is evidence of a flagrant crime having been committed.
However, extracts from a letter written by the court prosecutor and sent to Heng Samrin last week explain that Sokha’s refusal to attend court twice after being subpoenaed was an offense under the country’s criminal code and punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine.
Ly Sophanna, a court spokesman, declined to comment on the case.
Gen. Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, called on opposition supporters to end their protests as the case against Sokha was “not harmful to the nation.”
“It’s a tiny problem,” he added, declining to comment on why protesters were eventually allowed to proceed to the Royal Palace to hand over their petition after being blocked for much of the day.