Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni left the country on Thursday for a medical checkup in China, a day after the country’s Senate approved a new law making it a crime to insult the monarch along with controversial changes to several articles of the constitution.
The constitutional changes and the strict lèse-majesté law were adopted by the lower house of parliament on Feb. 14, only 12 days after first being adopted by the Council of Ministers. The king, however must sign the amendments and other legislation for them to become law.
Independent observers and civil society groups and have warned that the adoption of the lèse-majesté law and constitutional amendments put forth by top officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) could pose a serious threat to human rights and basic freedoms.
The lèse-majesté clause, one of two new articles included in an amendment to the Criminal Code, carries a one- to five-year jail term and a U.S. $500-$2,500 fine.
Rights groups have noted that a similar lèse-majesté law in neighboring Thailand, which metes out harsh jail sentences for those who insult or threaten members of the royal family past and present, has prompted complaints that the law has been misused against critics of the government.
Other changes to Cambodia’s domestic law include provisions that oppose interference in the country’s internal affairs and legalize the removal of voting rights and the right to run as a candidate for political office for those deemed to have violated the interest of the state.
Changes to the Constitutional Council Law were passed to ensure compliance with the constitution, the interpretation of the charter and related statutes, and decisions by lawmakers in election-related disputes.
The changes are the latest move by the government of Cambodia’s long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen to clamp down on dissent and political challengers ahead of a general election in July.
The government has already targeted NGOs, independent media, and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in a months-long crackdown to silence its critics.
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