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Cablegate: Threat to Sam Rainsy's Parliamentary Immunity

VZCZCXRO2283
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0499/01 1701236
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 181236Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000499

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/P, P, D, H

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KJUS KPAO CB
SUBJECT: THREAT TO SAM RAINSY'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
SEEMINGLY GOING NOWHERE; CPP IN APPARENT RETREAT

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 495
B. PHNOM PENH 399

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISSEMINATION.


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A bid by the prosecution in the Sam
Rainsy defamation/disinformation case to lift Sam Rainsy's
parliamentary immunity has been rejected in yet another
rebuff to a court seemingly out of control. The court's
request submitted June 16 through the Ministry of Justice to
National Assembly (NA) President Heng Samrin to consider
stripping Rainsy's immunity failed to take into account that
the third term of parliament was officially declared closed,
lawmakers confirm. Heng Samrin told Radio Free Asia June 18
that he could take no action in the 12-member NA Permanent
Committee to strip immunity and that only a proclamation by
the Prime Minister or King could open an extraordinary
session of parliament to do so. Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)
parliamentarian Son Chhay, a member of the NA permanent
committee, does not expect this request to go forward because
it "makes the CPP look stupid" but Son Chhay notes the case
will have to be dealt with after the election. On the
Cambodian holiday, Ambassador sought meetings with Cambodian
officials to relay our concern about this apparent form of
harassment and also met with Sam Rainsy. In the meantime,
Hun Sen made some conciliatory remarks June 18 that some in
SRP found reassuring. Embassy responded to press queries
with a strong statement against the criminalization of
defamation (see para 6), noting the legal controversy risked
poisoning the political atmosphere, and calling on all
parties to exhibit calm. END SUMMARY.

Request to Lift Immunity
------------------------

2. (SBU) The one-page document requesting Rainsy's immunity
be lifted went through the Ministry of Justice and arrived at
the National Assembly June 16, according to SRP sources who
provided Embassy a copy June 17. The request refers to the
criminal case against Rainsy on charges of disinformation
regarding statements he made about Hor Namhong on April 17
(Ref B). (NOTE: While defamation was decriminalized in
2006, the criminal disinformation measure is a holdover from
the UNTAC era when it was a tool to defend against the armed
Khmer Rouge insurgency's propaganda machine. END NOTE.) The
request specifically cites Article 80 of the Cambodian
constitution on parliamentary immunity, which stipulates when
an MP can be prosecuted, detained, or arrested. The one-page
document notes that Sam Rainsy labeled Hor Namhong the
director of the Boeung Trabek re-education camp of the Khmer
Rouge and that he took "strong measures" against the
prisoners. (COMMENT: Readers would interpret that to mean the
prisoners were sent to their deaths. END COMMENT.)

3. (SBU) Embassy June 18 relayed a diplomatic note to the
MFA seeking a meeting for the Ambassador with Heng Samrin to
seek a fuller explanation of the extraordinary measures being
taken against Rainsy. Post also contacted a Hun Sen aide to
inquire about the apparent politicization of the court case.
(NOTE: Rainsy had earlier indicated that his lawyer had
arranged a delay of the civil and criminal cases until a
later date and seemed puzzled by the action which Rainsy said
was coming directly from Hor Namhong. END NOTE.)

4. (SBU) Late in the day, Embassy learned from an RFA
source that Heng Samrin gave an interview clearly stating
that he could take no action on the request as the NA
president and chairman of the NA Permanent Committee because
the third mandate of the NA (2003-2008) was officially
closed. Only the Prime Minister or King could call an
extraordinary session of the National Assembly and have the
entire body consider the request, Heng Samrin confirmed. SRP
MP Son Chhay told us afterwards that he viewed this
development in a positive light. Son Chhay, like Rainsy,
believes the court's actions are emanating from direct
pressure by Hor Namhong. He said that the CPP would now
"turn to other things" to oppose SRP because this "made them
look stupid." He also noted that in a speech in Pursat June
18, Hun Sen also seemed to be moving away from unfair attacks
against SRP and this might be a sign CPP was backing away
from its aggressive tactics, which were provoking an
international reaction. (NOTE: We understand an EU observer
team will give remarks tomorrow in Phnom Penh on the
pre-election climate. END NOTE.)

5. (SBU) COMMENT: We believe that Hor Namhong is on a
personal mission to save his legacy and that he does not feel
restrained by CPP to accomplish that end. Nonetheless, CPP

PHNOM PENH 00000499 002 OF 002


comrades have allowed him some leeway in trying to pressure
Rainsy into a public apology or retraction. While this
latter course might be best for all, we cannot be certain
Rainsy could manage an apology and satisfy Khmer voters. END
COMMENT.

6. (SBU) Following is the full text of an Embassy response
to press inquiries on the proposal to strip Sam Rainsy's
immunity:

BEGIN TEXT:

We applaud the release of Moneasekar Khmer editor Dam Sith as
we believe that his continuing incarceration could have
tarnished Cambodia's image internationally.

We regret that a legal controversy on the eve of this
election period risks poisoning the open political atmosphere
necessary for a fully democratic election process.

We understand that the plaintiff has won similar suits on
similar allegations in the past, and we certainly understand
his desire to vindicate his personal honor and his family
name.

But as Ambassador Mussomeli has said before, "criminal
disinformation suits brought by high government officials are
anathema to a democratic system. Being in the public eye and
being subjected to sometimes unfair criticisms is the price
one pays as a senior public servant."

To avoid the appearance of harassment during a politically
charged period, it would be better if the parties could agree
to proceed with the civil suit at a more appropriate time, or
resolve it in a collegial manner outside the court system.

With only a week to go before the election campaign season,
this is a time for calm, considered reflection.

END TEXT
MUSSOMELI

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