National Assembly passes lèse majesté law, limits to freedom of association

Prime Minister Hun Sen, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Defence Minister Tea Banh (L-R, front row) join lawmakers to vote on controversial constitutional amendments at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh this morning. Hong Menea

Leonie Kijewski | The Phnom Penh Post
Publication date 14 February 2018 | 12:29 ICT

The National Assembly unanimously passed amendments to the Constitution and Criminal Code today that will impose restrictions on the freedom of association and make it illegal to disrespect the king, and potentially other government leaders – provisions human rights advocates had opposed.

In a full plenary session, the 123 parliamentarians of ruling Cambodian People’s Party and Funcinpec, a nominal opposition party, approved the amendments that had been drafted last month. Additions to the criminal code, as drafted in a statement by Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 2, create penalties for violation of the new lèse majesté law of between one and five years in prison and fines of 2 million riel to 10 million riel (about $500 to $2,500).

The measures now go to the Senate – widely seen as a rubber stamp – before being passed to current King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, whose Funcinpec party was recently given 52 seats in the National Assembly following the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, signs in to this morning’s session. Hong Menea

Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a separate statement signed on February 9, said the amendments were needed to protect the country from outside influence.

“Therefore, all political parties, politicians and Cambodian people … shall devote to work collaboratively in protecting [Cambodia’s] independence, sovereignty and against any interference from outsiders,” he said in the statement.

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party has been engaged in a crackdown on dissent that has seen the country’s only viable opposition dissolved, NGOs monitored and independent media outlets shuttered. Human rights advocates had criticised the proposed amendments for their potential to further restrict freedom of expression.

The amended articles of the Constitution include Article 34, which will now provide for a legal basis to restrict voting rights; Article 42, which will require political parties to “place the country and nation’s interest first”; Article 49, which will mandate that “every Khmer citizen shall respect the Constitution” and has an “obligation to … defend the motherland”; and Article 53, which will now state that Cambodia will never interfere in another country’s affairs as it opposes any foreign interference in its own affairs.

The Assembly also approved amendments to the authority of the Constitutional Council. The amendments extend the authority of the constitutional committee to monitor complaints by individuals penalised by the National Election Committee, but removes its ability to manage complaints from political parties that have been denied registration by the Ministry of Interior.

Additional reporting by Ouk Suntharoth

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