Fierce Debate In Assembly on Adultery Bill

A proposed law to criminalize adultery was hotly debated Thurs­day, with CPP lawmakers arguing that it would protect family values and the Sam Rainsy Party countering that it was the hallmark of a to­talitarian state.

CPP lawmaker Som Kimsour urged the National Assembly to back the contentious legislation, say­ing it would preserve Cam­bo­dia’s dignity and prevent children from being raised in broken homes.

“The law will protect our Khmer society’s dignity, and [promote] mu­­­tual respect between one husband and wife,” she said. “It will of­fer morality to people to behave re­sponsibly in a family.”

Funcinpec lawmaker Monh So­phan said the law—which could put unfaithful spouses behind bars for up to a year—was the work of female CPP parliamentarians.

“It’s all CPP women who initiated the idea,” he told reporters outside the Assembly.

SRP lawmaker Ke Sovannroth told parliament Thursday that the new morality law is an unacceptable attempt to police people’s private lives.

“In a democratic country, they never charge people with crimes re­­lated to love, emotions and ethics. They don’t imprison people be­cause of that,” she said.

Few regimes other than the Tal­i­ban in Afghanistan have proposed such stringent measures, she said, adding: “This law is going backwards.”

Under Pol Pot, people were told they would be executed for extramarital affairs, but this still did not stop them, Ke Sovannroth add­ed. The family should take responsibility when its members are un­faithful, not the state, she added. “The law cannot help with family affairs.”

She also questioned whether the law would serve the best interests of Cambodia’s children. Children will suf­fer double humiliation if, once their parent’s infidelity be­comes known, the parent is then pub­­licly prosecuted, she said.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mit­tee for Free and Fair Elections, said this week that CPP officials may be afraid that extramarital af­fairs are un­dermining their powerful family dy­­nasties, which are ce­mented by close intermarriage be­tween political and business elites.

In May, wives of top CPP officials ral­lied against the dangers of high technology and succeeded in pushing Prime Minister Hun Sen to ban the latest generation of mobile phones. The wives were apparently prompted by fears that younger wom­­en could use the 3G phones’ video tech­nology to seduce husbands.

Ek Samol, CPP legislation chairman, denied that the law would take Cam­bodia back in time. He al­so claimed that several developed coun­tries have similar draconian mo­rality laws.

“Some people compare this law to Pol Pot’s and the Taliban’s, but Aus­tralia, the USA and Canada all have the law,” he claimed. “The law has good intentions to strictly control morality in society.”

CPP lawmaker Khoun Sodary said she supported the legislation be­cause only a strong hand can deal with Cambodia’s prevailing climate of immorality.

“The law is so im­portant and it reflects Cam­bo­dia’s current situation,” she said.

The legislation will also help re­duce corruption, as government of­ficials are currently acquiring mon­ey dishonestly to lavish it on their mistresses, she added.

Funcinpec lawmaker Princess Si­s­­owath Santa said she, too, back­ed the law. “The law will straighten the line to finish our bad habits and make them good habits,” she said.

But not everyone in the CPP/ Fun­­cinpec coalition government agreed.

Government spokesman and In­formation Minister Khieu Kan­ha­rith said by telephone that he was per­sonally opposed to the draft, and that Cambodia is not a “monk society.”

On occasion, he said, a little extramarital activity can be a beneficial stress reliever.

“If not, there will be bad tempers and fights in the office,” he said.

Khieu Kanharith also warned that such a severe law would damage the country’s international reputation.

“The law will make us asham­ed in front of other countries,” he said.

Kem Sokha, director of the Cam­bo­dian Center for Human Rights, said he could not understand why the law was suddenly being treated with such urgency.

The legislation will likely be im­plemented against mistresses rath­er than their high-ranking lo­v­ers, he said.

“Women will be the vul­nerable vic­tims of the law,” he said.

National Assembly President Heng Samrin said he will push for the law to be passed today.



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