Cambodia’s Post-Pandemic Law and Order

Amid economic crisis, sweeping new legislation on “public order” would stifle dissent—and effectively criminalize people for being poor.

Swift border closures and other restrictions have kept Cambodia relatively insulated from the health effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the economic toll is evident everywhere. During the last year, the government suspended tourist visas, and visitor numbers Meanwhile, microlenders are now calling in their debts, threatening many Cambodians’ livelihoods.

As the specter of homelessness and unemployment looms, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has proposed a raft of new laws that could make matters worse. The sweeping legislation, referred to as the “draft law on public order,” would regulate and even criminalize unsanctioned behavior in public spaces. The law has a clear political objective: to quash protests and other expressions of political dissent. But its 48 articles also include bans on public smoking, short skirts, drying laundry when visible to the street, and tipping out wastewater in the gutter.

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