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Lèse majesté law in works for Cambodia

A new amendment to the penal code would amount to a Thai-style lèse majesté law outlawing insults to King Norodom Sihamoni (pictured).
A new amendment to the penal code would amount to a Thai-style lèse majesté law outlawing insults to King Norodom Sihamoni (pictured). Heng Chivoan

Lèse majesté law in works for Cambodia

The Ministry of Justice today confirmed that a proposed lèse majesté law would be among a series of legal amendments considered by the Council of Ministers on Friday.

A letter of invitation to local media publicised on Monday revealed a slew of constitutional articles are slated to be amended, along with unspecified elements of the Criminal Code and certain elements of the law on the organisation of the Constitutional Council itself.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chhin Malin said he could not release detailed information on the Criminal Code amendments until the meeting on Friday but did confirm that one would ban insults to King Norodom Sihamoni.

“In short, there is [a law] related to the punishment for insulting the King, because in our Constitution there is an article that protects the King from violation, but in the Penal Code there is no article to punish the one who insults the King,” Malin said.

Malin said the law is necessary because people have begun “looking down” on the King recently.

In October, former Funcinpec party Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay Sreng called Sihamoni a “castrated chicken” for failing to intervene in Cambodia’s current political crisis. Though the remark was made in a private conversation that was secretly recorded and distributed without his permission, he was nonetheless convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen for other remarks made during the call.

Hun Sen also threatened to sue him for insulting the King, despite the fact that no such law existed at the time.

Malin claimed the Criminal Code must match the Constitution in that regard, and said that other changes will also prescribe punishments for acts soon to be outlawed by the new constitutional amendments.

“When there are amendments to the Constitution, there are requirements to amend some other laws to make the law comply with the Constitution,” Malin added, saying that it was a “normal process”.

In recent months, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has engaged in a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent and its political opposition, bolstered by hasty amendments to a number of laws, raising concerns among observers about the newly proposed amendments. Among the amendments hinted at on Monday were several that mirrored the ruling party’s accusations that the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party was working to foment a foreign-backed “revolution”.

One would require that all political parties “place the country and nation’s interests first”, while another would clarify that Cambodia “opposes any foreign interference in its internal affairs”, a senior official has said.

The first person to be charged under these new Criminal Code adjustments may well be Kem Monovithya, daughter of the imprisoned CNRP leader Kem Sokha.

In an internationally condemned move, Sokha was arrested for “treason” in September, with his party dissolved two months later. Since then, Monovithya has appealed to the international community to sanction Cambodia, prompting accusations from the ruling party that she is undermining her own country.

On Monday, the same official confirmed that one amendment will ban individuals from “impacting the country’s interests”. Kheng himself used identical wording when proposing the amendment as a direct response to Monovithya’s campaign.

Chak Sopheap, of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, yesterday joined the chorus of concern over the new legal changes.

“The possible amendments to the Constitution and the Criminal Code carry with them the risk of seriously infringing upon fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and freedom of association,” Sopheap said via email yesterday, noting that some of the suggested terminology is vague and open to “misuse”.

Meanwhile, all of the articles slated to be amended within the law on the Constitutional Council itself are related to settling election-related disputes. Min Sean, spokesman for the council, declined to comment in depth on the changes, only saying that they were being changed to comply with the constitutional amendments.

A previous version of this article said that the proposed constitutional changes would be approved by the Constitutional Council. They will in fact go to the Council of Ministers.

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