Cambodia yesterday banned the denial of atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime with a new law, a move the opposition claims is a political attack weeks ahead of national polls.
The law bans statements denying crimes by the communist regime that ruled from 1975 to 1979 killing an estimated 2 million people, and carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.
The law, similar to legislation covering Holocaust denial in Germany and France, was proposed by strongman Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen after a recording emerged of an opposition leader apparently excusing the Khmer Rouge from responsibility for running a notorious torture prison during their rule.
The recording, posted on a government Web site last month, is of Kem Sokha, deputy head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), saying the notorious Tuol Sleng prison was run by Vietnamese soldiers who ousted the Khmer Rouge rather than the regime.
About 15,000 men, women and children were tortured and executed at the prison, also known as S-21, in Phnom Penh.
Kem Sokha has admitted it is his voice on the recording, but alleges it was edited to say the contentious comments, a claim backed by the CNRP which alleges the tape was aired “to cause political trouble” ahead of a general election next month.
Lawmakers, mostly from the ruling party, unanimously approved the law after about an hour of debate yesterday.
The law will prosecute anyone who “does not acknowledge, denies or diminishes ... crimes committed under the Democratic Kampuchea,” the draft said.
However, critics say the law may jeopardize painstaking efforts to heal the country.
A protest led by a prominent survivor from Tuol Sleng is due to be held in the capital tomorrow.