PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party on Thursday began a push to adopt a draft law to impose a one-year jail term on any Cambodian convicted of having an extramarital affair.
Several critics quickly condemned the move, saying it is repressive.
During a Parliament debate Thursday, Eng Chhay Eang, a lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, compared the jail punishment to the harsh rule of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan — and to Cambodia's own brutal former leader.
"It also sounds like the Pol Pot regime, under which anyone who dared to harbor sentimental feelings of love toward another person was arrested and executed," he said, referring to the late leader of the Khmer Rouge regime, which caused the deaths of nearly 2 million people in the late 1970s.
He said criminal punishment for adultery is "unnecessary."
An article in the draft law states that adultery committed by a man or woman, while still officially married, is punishable with a prison sentence from six months to a year and a fine of 1 million riel (US$244; euro190).
Ek Sam Ol, a lawmaker from Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, said it is intended to make married couples "live in harmony, happiness and with dignity."
"It is an instrument to assist Cambodians in nurturing good family cells for the future," said Ek Sam Ol, who heads the National Assembly's influential legislative committee.
In late February, Hun Sen called for such a rule for public officials, in a bid to uphold high moral conduct.
But Kem Sokha, president of the nonprofit Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Cambodia was using the measure as a way to avoid tackling more important problems.
"The timing for it is quite suspicious, and I think that Cambodia has many issues of greater importance to tackle" than adultery, he said. "The anti-corruption law is of higher priority than adultery, but the government has always had many excuses to delay it."