Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, with a Prime Minister who is head of government and a King who is head of state.
Cambodia remains under the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen (in power since 1985), following a military coup orchestrated by Hun Sen in 1997. Hun Sen’s government is regularly accused of human rights abuses and repressing political opposition. Senior members of Hun Sen’s government, including Hun Sen himself, held positions under the Khmer Rouge and have been implicated in Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in the late 1970s.
According to Cambodia’s Ministry of Cults and Religion, approximately 95% of the population is Buddhist (of the Theravada school) and around 2% of the population is Muslim. The Muslim population is predominantly ethnically Cham, with most residing in rural areas along the Mekong River.
Article 43 of the Constitution establishes Buddhism as the State religion. Buddhism is promoted by the government in a multitude of ways, including through Buddhist instruction in public schools, the appointment by the government of Buddhist monk leaders, and financial support to Buddhist institutions.
The 2011 Criminal Code prohibits and penalizes acts that constitute “Infringement on State Religion.” The concerned section is vague and penalizes certain forms of expression that may be perceived as offensive to adherents of Buddhism, such as “the unauthorized wearing of Buddhist monks’ robes in public” (Article 508). “Insult” committed against a Buddhist monk, nun or layman, defined as “words and gestures likely to undermine the dignity of a person”, is also criminalized (Article 516).
Violation of Article 516 is punishable by imprisonment from one day to six days and a fine from one those to one hundred thousand Riels.
In March 2021, the Ministry of Cults and Religion revoked the media license of an online publication for criticizing a Siem Reap monk for lashing three junior monks. The Ministry also indicated its desire to prosecute the social media figure behind the online publication, Pheng Vannak, for “insulting Buddhist monks” under Article 516 of the Criminal Code.