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Lèse majesté law for Cambodia advances

The National Assembly Permanent Committee meets to discuss the lèse majesté law and other proposed legal amendments yesterday. National Assembly
The National Assembly Permanent Committee meets to discuss the lèse majesté law and other proposed legal amendments yesterday. National Assembly

Lèse majesté law for Cambodia advances

The National Assembly’s Permanent Committee met to discuss a proposed lèse majesté law yesterday, as criticism of the law and draft constitutional amendments continued to mount.

National Assembly President Heng Samrin presided over the meeting, where it was decided to forward the draft law banning insults to the king to the Legislation and Justice Committee, according to a press release.

National Assembly Secretary-General Leng Peng Long said the vote would take place after the Legislation and Justice Committee makes its report. “It is up to them how long to take to study, and after they study, they will make a report to the Permanent Committee,” he said.

Once the report is received, the Permanent Committee will set a date to vote on the lèse majesté law.

The constitutional amendments, which also include restrictions on freedom of association and political participation, will be subject to a consultation between current King Norodom Sihamoni and the Constitutional Council before being sent to the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) joined a growing body of critics slamming the 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 Cambodian People’s Party, were all approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday.

The APHR statement quotes Philippines representative Tom Villarin, who specifically warned that amendments to constitutional articles 42 and 49, which would 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 Chairman 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 defacto one-party system that has taken hold in Cambodia,” Santiago added.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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