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Assembly Approves Law Against Denial of Khmer Rouge Crimes

Cambodia's main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha, center, waves during a protest rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 20, 2013.

PHNOM PENH, WASHINGTON DC - The National Assembly has adopted a law criminalizing the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes, approving a hurriedly prepared law that comes amid accusations against an opposition party leader.

Kem Sokha, vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, is accused of denying the severity of atrocities committed at a former Khmer Rouge torture center in Phnom Penh.

Kem Sokha, who returned late Friday to Cambodia from a trip abroad, has said alleged recorded remarks he made have been taken out of context by the ruling party ahead of the elections.

The law was passed by all 86 lawmakers in attendance, from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the royalist Funcinpec. Members of the opposition Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties currently have no seats in the Assembly, having given them up to contest the elections in the newly formed Rescue Party.

The “Law on the Denial of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea,” which refers to the official name for the Khmer Rouge, was proposed on May 29 by seven members of the ruling party.

The short, five-article law calls for jail terms of up to two years and hefty fines for anyone who refuses to acknowledge the existence of Khmer Rouge crimes or glorifies them.

Critics say the law appears seems aimed at Kem Sokha, the top leader of the opposition in Cambodia—party president Sam Rainsy is in exile abroad—as the country heads toward the July 27 national elections.

Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the law reflects the abuse of power by the ruling party and disregards the constitution. The hurriedly passed law did not allow for public debate, as stipulated in the constitution, he told VOA Khmer.

Meanwhile, outspoken Khmer Rouge victim Chum Mey says he will lead a demonstration on Sunday demanding an apology from Kem Sokha.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he supports the demonstration, which is expected to gather up to 20,000 people for a march on the headquarters of the opposition party. Hun Sen had called for the law on Monday, one week after accusing Kem Sokha of claims that crimes at the Tuol Sleng torture center were exaggerated by the Vietnamese forces who ousted the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979.

In a statement Friday, Kem Sokha said the Rescue Party has pledged to “find justice for all the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.”