A group of European parliamentarians says charges brought in Cambodia against opposition leader Sam Rainsy are more political than criminal.
The Inter-Parliamentarian Union issued a resolution this month calling on Cambodian authorities to “explore ways and means of resolving the issues at hand through political dialogue.”
Sam Rainsy, who is in exile abroad, is facing a 12-year jail sentence in two cases, for uprooting markers along the Vietnamese border and for posting a map on his party's website the government says falsely alleges Vietnamese border encroachment.
The Appeals Court this week upheld a guilty verdict in Sam Rainsy's border marker case, which carries a two-year sentence for destruction of property and incitement.
The IPU called on the government to “enable Mr. Sam Rainsy to resume his parliamentary activities as rapidly as possible.”
Government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have said the cases belong to the courts and will not be discussed beyond them.
The IPU said in its Oct. 6 resolution the cases “never should have been brought before the courts, but resolved at the political level.”
As a result of the charges, Sam Rainsy has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity. Meanwhile, his party and others must now prepare for commune elections in 2012 and national elections the following year.
The IPU said it was “particularly alarmed that, if upheld, this verdict would bar Mr. Sam Rainsy from standing in the 2013 parliamentary elections.”
The verdict would also have “consequences far beyond Mr. Sam Rainsy's case, as it is bound to affect the opposition,” the IPU said, calling recent prosecutions of other opposition supporters a narrowing of the political space and detrimental to the democratic process.
Cheam Yiep, a senior Cambodian People's Party lawmaker, said Sam Rainsy had broken the law and should face the legal ramifications.
“What they have raised as a resolution of the IPU, I cannot accept it as a parliamentarian of Cambodia,” he said, and he accused the IPU of “listening to the minority.”
The Sam Rainsy Party holds 26 of 123 National Assembly seats, compared to the CPP's 90.
“So they are paying attention only to 26 seats,” he said.
The IPU resolution calls for close monitoring of the developments of Sam Rainsy's legal cases.