The Council of Ministers on Thursday issued a statement rebuking some recent critical commentary of King Norodom Sihamoni and reminding the public of the reigning monarch’s constitutionally protected inviolability.
King Sihamoni has been thrust back into the spotlight amid Cambodia’s present political standoff over July’s disputed national election owing to his duties under the Constitution to preside over the opening of each new National Assembly. The opposition CNRP wants the King to delay the Assembly’s opening on Monday until it settles the dispute in negotiations with the ruling CPP. The CPP is pushing for the session to start as scheduled.
“Recently the Royal Government has noticed that a number of people’s expressions through the media, radio, newspapers, websites and in particular the new social media network Facebook have been extremely critical, which affects the name and reputation of our highly respected King,” the Council of Ministers said in the statement.
“Therefore, the Royal Government appeals to every citizen to maintain the value, dignity and respect of the revered King of our nation and to thoroughly respect the Constitution, which is the supreme law.”
The statement cites the Constitution’s articles 7 and 8.
Article 7 of the Constitution states that “the person of the King shall be inviolable.”
Article 8 speaks of the King’s role as “the symbol of national unity and continuity” and the “guarantor” of the country’s independence and of citizens’ rights.
Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit, declined to comment on the statement.
The statement does not refer to any of the sorts of comments it was rebuking, but posts on Facebook have emerged recently questioning the King’s relationship with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Monday, Radio France Internationale published an analytical piece claiming that some people were using the monarchy for political gain in the current crisis.
Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent lawyer who heads the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said he knew of no instance in which Article 7 of the Constitution had actually been invoked to sanction anyone, perhaps because the country’s Penal Code included penalties for such breaches.
Mr. Sam Oeun cited the case of a Chinese garment factory manager who tore up two photographs of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk last year and noted that she was convicted of destroying property. The woman received a suspended one-year jail term and was ordered deported from Cambodia.
If the government was serious about enforcing Article 7, Mr. Sam Oeun said, “it should add to the Penal Code the terms of punishment for those who look down on or insult the King.”
Asked about the Council of Minister’s statement, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the laws of the land also guaranteed freedom of expression.
“We do not violate the King; we respect the King,” Mr. Sovann said. “The King asked the two parties to find justice for the people, so those who do not respect the will of the people violate the King,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)