Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Cambodia's Rainsy loses immunity

Cambodia opposition leader Sam Rainsy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 4 August 2009
Sam Rainsy is currently thought to be in France

Cambodia's parliament has stripped opposition leader Sam Rainsy of his immunity from prosecution.

The move was prompted by his reported encouragement to villagers to uproot border markers on the frontier with Vietnam last month.

Mr Rainsy has claimed that Vietnam is encroaching on Cambodian territory.

Parliament is overwhelmingly dominated by the Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who tolerates little dissent.

The vote marks the third time this year that parliament has removed the immunity of members from the biggest opposition party.

Stripping habit

Mr Rainsy was charged with misconduct when he encouraged villagers evicted from a border area to uproot wooden posts that had been placed along the newly agreed frontier with Vietnam.

"The National Assembly has lifted the immunity of Sam Rainsy, who committed an act of destruction... and convinced people to commit criminal acts," the house said in a statement.

Sam Rainsy is currently thought to be in France; the 25 lawmakers from his party boycotted the vote.

Journalists were barred from attending the house session and police prevented the boycotting lawmakers from returning after the vote.

Opposition MPs march in Phnom Penh in support of Sam Rainsy 16 Nov 09
Opposition MPs marched in Phnom Penh in support of Sam Rainsy

Rights groups and international donors have accused the government in recent months of using the courts to muzzle opponents and the media.

The Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said the government was abusing its power and acting undemocratically.

"The government wants to silence the opposition when it is helping the people," he told reporters.

"These people are losing land day by day because of the border demarcation. This is an injustice and a big step backwards for democracy in Cambodia."

Last month Cambodia's parliament passed laws limiting protests to fewer than 200 people and tightened defamation laws.

In June, the National Assembly voted to strip parliamentary immunity from two opposition members, Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, so that they can be prosecuted on defamation charges.

The government has defended its use of the courts, saying in one case a critic had attempted to cause "chaos and confusion" with inaccurate remarks.

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