Cambodians Have Freedom of Religion: Report

Cambodians of different religions are by and large able to practice their faiths in an atmosphere free of intimidation and government interference, the US State Department said in a report released Friday.

Government policy, as well as “generally amicable” relations between religious groups, have contributed to Cambodia’s freedom of worship, according to the annual International Religious Freedom Report.

The report praises constitutional protections against religious discrimination and tolerance on the part of local and national authorities.

“No significant constraints on religious assembly were reported during the period covered by this report,” according to the Cambodia section, which counted Cambodia’s 4,100 Theravada Buddhist pagodas, 63 Mahayana Buddhist temples, 2,400 Christian churches and 400 to 600 mosques.

About 93 percent of Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists, according to the report, which also found that Muslims represent 4 to 8 percent of the population and Christians about 2 percent.

“Minor conflicts” arose among Muslims and Christians and “occasional tensions” occurred between some Islamic sects, the report said. “However, in general, Cham Muslims were well integrated into society, enjoyed positions of prominence in business in the government and faced no reported acts of discrimination or abuse,” it said.

A number of Cambodian churches and church houses have been destroyed in recent years by disgruntled locals who believed Christianity brought bad luck.

Sun Kim Hun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, attributed Cam­bodia’s success in protecting and promoting freedom of worship to the tolerant character of Buddhism, Cambodia’s state religion.

“The enduring goal of Buddhism is peaceful,” he said Sunday. “Bud­dha says conquer anger with love.”

Om Yentieng, human rights advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that as an independent country, Cambodia is little swayed by criticism or praise from abroad.

“Whenever there is criticism, we are never angry or vengeful. And whenever they say something good about us, we’re never happy, because we never want to be under the control of any country,” he said.

Muslim Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Ahmed Yahya said he agreed with the report’s findings but said many Cambodian Muslims were angered by the government’s May 2003 closure of the Om-Alqura Institute after three of its staff were arrested on suspicion of associating with regional terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah. Several of the teachers at the institute in Kandal province were subsequently convicted on terrorist charges, and the school reopened in June 2004.

Chea Vannath, former president of the Center for Social Develop­ment, said that the political rights of religious groups are sometimes infringed upon.

“In the 2003 election, it was noted the monks were not allowed to go to vote,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)


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