Cambodia pushes law that makes insulting the king a crime

Cambodia’s Cabinet on February 2 endorsed an amendment to the criminal code making insulting the king a criminal offense punishable by a fine and prison time. The change must still go to both houses of parliament for approval, but it is expected it will almost certainly be ratified.

The lèse majesté law would make it illegal to make disparaging comments against the monarchy, as well as a slew of other amendments that will inevitably curb free speech, critics say. There are also concerns in the current repressive political climate that lèse majesté could be wielded by the Hun Sen government similar to how royal defamation is enforced in Thailand by both elected and coup-installed regimes.

The Cambodia government, in turn, argues the amendment is needed to “protect the honor and reputation of the monarch.”

Proposed punishments for breaking the new law are thought to be a prison sentence of between one and five years, and a fine of about $2,500. There is speculation, however, the fine could be as much as $15,000.

King Norodom Sihamoni, 64, Cambodia’s current monarch, is a constitutional monarch who maintains a low profile and plays a minimal role in public affairs, while Prime Minister Hun Sen exercises almost absolute control over politics.

King Sihamoni himself has never bid to sue for defamation and, by all accounts, is supportive of free speech. He has made no public comments about the new proposed law.

His passive attitude toward politics has given rise to some criticism in recent years as Hun Sen — who technically needs Sihamoni to approve new laws — has launched harsh crackdowns on his opponents.

Currently, only Thailand and Malaysia have lèse majesté laws in Asia, Elsewhere, it is forbidden to criticize the royalty in Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In Europe, there are such laws, although very rarely applied, in the Netherlands and Spain, and a libel law protecting the monarch in Denmark.

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Cambodia’s Cabinet on February 2 endorsed an amendment to the criminal code making insulting the king a criminal offense punishable by a fine and prison time. The change must still go to both houses of parliament for approval, but it is expected it will almost certainly be ratified.

Cambodia’s Cabinet on February 2 endorsed an amendment to the criminal code making insulting the king a criminal offense punishable by a fine and prison time. The change must still go to both houses of parliament for approval, but it is expected it will almost certainly be ratified.

The lèse majesté law would make it illegal to make disparaging comments against the monarchy, as well as a slew of other amendments that will inevitably curb free speech, critics say. There are also concerns in the current repressive political climate that lèse majesté could be wielded by the Hun Sen government similar to how royal defamation is enforced in Thailand by both elected and coup-installed regimes.

The Cambodia government, in turn, argues the amendment is needed to “protect the honor and reputation of the monarch.”

Proposed punishments for breaking the new law are thought to be a prison sentence of between one and five years, and a fine of about $2,500. There is speculation, however, the fine could be as much as $15,000.

King Norodom Sihamoni, 64, Cambodia’s current monarch, is a constitutional monarch who maintains a low profile and plays a minimal role in public affairs, while Prime Minister Hun Sen exercises almost absolute control over politics.

King Sihamoni himself has never bid to sue for defamation and, by all accounts, is supportive of free speech. He has made no public comments about the new proposed law.

His passive attitude toward politics has given rise to some criticism in recent years as Hun Sen — who technically needs Sihamoni to approve new laws — has launched harsh crackdowns on his opponents.

Currently, only Thailand and Malaysia have lèse majesté laws in Asia, Elsewhere, it is forbidden to criticize the royalty in Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In Europe, there are such laws, although very rarely applied, in the Netherlands and Spain, and a libel law protecting the monarch in Denmark.

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