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Cambodian PM takes aim at 'inappropriate' religious acts

Hun Manet says core values of Christianity, Buddhism and Islam must be respected
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet speaks during the official launch of the new Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap province on Nov. 16

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet speaks during the official launch of the new Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap province on Nov. 16. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 22, 2023 04:00 AM GMT
Updated: December 22, 2023 05:58 AM GMT

As Christmas nears, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet has tasked the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs to investigate and take measures “against inappropriate religious acts,” including by followers of Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.

In a statement carried by the official Agence Kampuchea Presse, Hun Manet, while addressing an annual meeting of the Ministry of Environment, “urged action” against individuals, including those on social media, who use religion for personal gain.

He also urged the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs to consult with all religious leaders, to investigate cases of individuals misleading the public.

“We respect the right and freedom of religion, but all must be under the law and core values of those religions," Hun Manet said. “The public can choose to follow any religion with core values, no matter how big or small they are.”

Cambodians have been subjected to a crackdown on political dissent which enabled Hun Manet’s father, Hun Sen, to win the last two elections and transfer power to his eldest son in August. This included the jailing of citizens who made “inappropriate” comments on social media.

Hun Sen had championed freedom of religion. In January, he marked a century of Christianity, pressing for harmony among all religions and requesting that the clergy refrain from forcing people to change their beliefs.

He said different denominations within Christianity had flourished in Cambodia since a 30-year civil war ended in 1998 which included the 1975-79 reign of the Khmer Rouge when all forms of religion were banned and thousands perished for their faith.

The Khmer Rouge also obliterated all 73 Catholic churches across Cambodia, tore down Phnom Penh Cathedral stone-by-stone, and converted a neighboring Catholic cemetery into a banana plantation.

Hun Manet’s call for action was also picked up by the semi-official Fresh News online portal which said in the past individuals impersonating religious figures or monks were a cause for concern.

“Recently, there was a woman wearing a veil representing a deity, which undermined religious values, as well as compromised security and social order. Therefore, the premier advised relevant ministers to investigate these cases in order to preserve the values of religion.”

It said if individuals exploit religion as a pretext for engaging in other activities, “the Royal Government also has a responsibility to safeguard religious and social values”.

At the same time, Hun Manet had advised a review of the dissemination of social media, information distribution, and activities in public places and if there is a public promotion with the intention of “enticing or engaging in other activities” then the ministry must exercise caution.

His statement was released amid a slew of other announcements including a crackdown on the military, police and foreigners involved in the drug trade and drivers who cause fatal accidents.

Additionally, Hun Manet seemed to take a swipe against evangelicalism saying he encouraged all religious followers “not to intrude on or violate any others of different beliefs, but to work and live in harmony together.”

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