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Proposed lèse majesté law, changes to Constitution undermine freedoms: rights group

Prime Minister Hun Sen chairs a meeting of the Council of Ministers at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Friday. Facebook
Prime Minister Hun Sen chairs a meeting of the Council of Ministers at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Friday. Facebook

Proposed lèse majesté law, changes to Constitution undermine freedoms: rights group

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights are the latest group to slam controversial proposed amendments to Cambodia’s Constitution and Penal Code, warning the adjustments would “inflict deep, long-lasting damage to Cambodia’s institutional framework”.

The amendments, drafted by members of the ruling Cambodia People’s Party, were all approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday, and will soon be voted on in the CPP-dominated National Assembly.

The statement from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights quotes Philippines representative Tom Villarin, who specifically warned that Articles 42 and 49, which require that individuals and political parties place the nation’s interests first, would “severely undermine freedom of association in Cambodia” and were “exceedingly vague”.

The statement went on to say that the proposal of a lèse majesté law banning insults to the King is “extremely worrying”.

Noting that a similar law has been abused in Thailand, and that Cambodia already has a history of “consistent misuse” of the law in general, APHR chairperson Charles Santiago said there was “serious potential for its abuse in Cambodia”.

In an email, Santiago explained that the lèse majesté law will likely serve as “yet another addition to the government’s arsenal of legal tools” with which it attacks political opponents.

Noting “rampant use of anti-defamation legislation” to “silence criticism”, Santiago predicted the new law would be used in much the same way, and that the judiciary will continue to be used politically.

The statement also asserts that the National Assembly is “fundamentally undemocratic” following the forced dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which received 44 percent of the vote in the national election in 2013. The CNRP's seats were redistributed between the CPP and three minor parties that won less than 5 percent of the vote combined.

“This is striking evidence of the dangers of the de facto one-party system that has taken hold in Cambodia,” Santiago added.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not immediately be reached for comment.

Updates to follow.

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