The Council of Ministers has drafted an amendment to the Penal Code that says anyone who insults the King will face from one to five years in jail and a fine from $500 to $12,500.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that according to the constitution, Cambodia is a kingdom with the king as the head of state.
In fulfilling the status as the head of state, the king is protected by the constitution, he said.
“At the same time, according to the research of the laws of some royalist countries, any actions that affect the king are regarded as a felony or misdemeanour that has to be severely punished,” he said.
The Council of Ministers issued a press release following a meeting last week to draft the amendment, stating that insulting the king shall be deemed a criminal offence.
“Insulting the king shall be punished with imprisonment from one to five years,” the press release said.
The creation of laws against insulting the king follow comments made by former deputy prime minister Lu Lay Sreng last year, who compared the king to a castrated rooster and was charged with defamation.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana told the cabinet that in Thailand, anyone who insults the king faces three to 15 years in jail.
“So, in Cambodia to protect the name of our revered king who is the head of state as stated in Cambodia’s constitution, anyone who insults the king shall be considered a criminal,” he said.
Mr Vong Vathana noted that state prosecutors would not need a formal complaint to be filed by the king to take legal action against individuals who defame the royal family.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said the punishments were not as serious as other countries, but were needed nonetheless.
“Our law concerning the punishment of wrongdoers for insulting the king is not as serious as those in Thailand and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “However, Cambodia needs to have a proper law in this regard given that in the past, people have insulted the king.”
National Assembly secretary-general Leng Peng Long said the draft law has not yet been sent to parliamentarians.
“If the Council of Ministers sends the draft law soon, we will follow the proper procedures by conducting a meeting with the standing committee before a plenary session,” he said, noting the draft law may be sent to the National Assembly today.