The CPP-controlled Senate will meet in a closed session today to vote on whether to strip the legal immunity of an opposition senator who has twice failed to appear for questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over a lawsuit brought by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The Senate’s permanent committee decided on Wednesday to send the Court of Appeal’s request to remove Thak Lany’s immunity to the full Senate for a vote. With more than two-thirds of seats, ruling CPP senators can single-handedly do so.
Ms. Lany’s colleagues in the legacy Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) opposed the measure on Wednesday, but a request to pull the case from the Senate’s agenda was rejected, said Teav Vannol, the party’s acting president.
“They intend to strip her immunity,” Mr. Vannol said. “We are boycotting the meeting.”
Mr. Hun Sen sued Ms. Lany last month for allegedly accusing him in a speech of ordering the July murder of political analyst Kem Ley. She has denied the claim and said that a video clip in which she can be seen making the accusation had been edited.
The Constitution guarantees legal immunity to senators and members of the National Assembly, which shields them from arrest unless they are caught in the act of a crime.
Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang said today’s vote would be held behind closed doors because “more than 10 senators requested to hold a closed meeting.”
Removing the immunity of opposition politicians has been a favorite tactic of the CPP, but it does not currently enjoy the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to execute the maneuver. However, the prosecution of an opposition lawmaker without first removing their immunity has precedent.
SRP Senator Hong Sok Hour was jailed in August last year over a video posted online. While the CPP had the two-thirds majority in the Senate to strip him of his immunity, it decided not to, claiming the video’s continued existence constituted catching him red-handed.
Legal analysts say this broad interpretation of the exception essentially renders parliamentary immunity meaningless.