CAMBODIA’s government is considering the implementation of strict lese majeste laws such as exist in neighbouring Thailand, which would criminalise perceived criticism of the Southeast Asian nation’s monarchy.
The Kingdom’s Interior Minister Sar Kheng held a discussion on the issue on Wednesday and how to better “protect” its royal family by altering parts of the criminal code, reported the Phnom Penh Post.
“Some other countries already have such a law, like Thailand, Japan and the Netherlands. We are also a monarchy, but there is no article for that,” said an Interior Ministry spokesman.
The announcement comes amid a crackdown by Hun Sen’s government against political opposition, the media and the NGO sector. Last month, the government successfully dissolved the major opposition force, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
It had previously shuttered the US-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute and forced closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper. The Bangkok Post reported on Monday that the Cambodian Information Ministry had shut down a further 330 print media outlets.
In Thailand, lese majeste carries a minimum penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment. The draconian laws have been widely criticised as a means to suppress dissent – particularly because their application has risen significantly since the Thai military seized power in a coup in 2014.
In June, for example, one man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for posting photos and videos of the royal family on Facebook.
“In the case of Cambodia, where the Prime Minister is symbolically endorsed by the king, then a broad reading of lese majeste could mean that courts could go after anyone critical of Hun Sen and lock them up for several years because of purported violations of a lese majeste code,” Paul Chambers, an international relations lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand told the Phnom Penh Post.
The country’s ex-Deputy Prime Minister Lu Lay Sreng already faces a lawsuit, filed by Hun Sen in October, for insulting King Norodom Sihamoni as a “castrated chicken” for not getting involved in Cambodia’s political situation during a secretly recorded phone conversation.
“If a Thailand-type lese majeste law does become part of Cambodia’s legal code, then we can expect that regime opponents such as Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, Mu Sochua and even foreign opponents of Hun Sen would be either tried or tried in absentia under this law as a means of silencing dissent,” Chambers added.