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Opposition Deputy Skips Court Hearing Amid Scandal

Kem Sokha talked to CNRP activists and supporters in Por Senchey district, west of Phnom Penh, on March 6, 2016. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Lawmakers from the CNRP said scandal-hit Sokha was protected from legal proceedings by his parliamentary immunity.

Court officials are considering further legal action against Kem Sokha after the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president chose not to heed a court summons on Wednesday to appear for questioning.

Keo Socheat, Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor, declined to comment on the specifics of the legal action the court may pursue.

“I must respect my professionalism,” he said, referring questions to a court spokesman who said he could not comment until Socheat had made a decision.

Lawmakers from the CNRP said scandal-hit Sokha was protected from legal proceedings by his parliamentary immunity.

Son Chhay, a senior CNRP lawmaker, said there was “no legal procedure under which the police can arrest a lawmaker with parliamentary immunity if he fails to appear in court for questioning by a prosecutor.”

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, agreed. However, he warned that the law was open for interpretation.

“Now even parliamentary immunity is useless. As we have seen, Um Sam An, a lawmaker with parliamentary immunity, is in prison,” he said, referring to an opposition MP charged with “incitement” in April over his outspoken criticism of the government’s border policy.

In an attempt to strike back Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana was summoned to appear in parliament over allegations of improper management of the country’s judicial procedures.

Vong Vathana will also face questions over the Anti-Corruption Unit’s pursuit of Kem Sokha and the arrest of four rights workers and an election official earlier this month on bribery charges.

“There will be questions related to the power of the prosecutor to summon lawmakers for questioning,” Chhay said.

A date for Vong Vathana’s appearance at the National Assembly has yet to be announced.

Each party has a different interpretation of the law when it comes to immunity, with the CNRP arguing that the court can only act after three quarters of the country’s 123 MPs vote to suspend a person’s immunity.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, however, has in the past proceeded to remove opposition lawmakers’ immunity despite the opposition boycotting the vote, and argues that three quarters of parliament must vote in favor of the lawmaker for them to retain their immunity, meaning that opposition MPs would need the support of ruling party members.

Lawyer Sam Oeun admitted that he found the legal interpretations confusing.

“But to my understanding, a lawmakers’ immunity protects him or her from any judicial prosecutions, arrest, detention and charges,” he said.

Two other CNRP lawmakers, Tok Vanchan and Pin Ratana, were also summoned to court, on May 16.