The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security. The constitution establishes Buddhism as the state religion and provides for state support of Buddhist education; it also prohibits discrimination based on religion. The law requires that religious groups refrain from openly criticizing other religious groups, although this provision is rarely tested. The law also forbids religious organizations from organizing events, rallies, meetings, and training sessions that are politically focused.
The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhist groups, to register with the MCR to conduct religious activities. The law mandates that groups must inform the government of the goals of their religious organization, describe its activities, provide biographical information of all religious leaders, describe funding sources, commit to submitting annual reports detailing all activities, and refrain from insulting other religious groups, fomenting disputes, or undermining national security. Registration requires approvals from numerous local, provincial, and national government offices, a process which can take up to 90 days. The MCR, however, has no authority to punish religious groups for failing to register, and there are no associated penalties for failing to register. Registered religious groups receive an income tax exemption from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
While the law formally bans non-Buddhist groups from door-to-door proselytizing and stipulates that non-Buddhist literature may only be distributed inside religious institutions, the MCR reports some Christian groups still carry out these activities without facing arrest. The law also prohibits offers of money or materials in order to convince people to convert.
The law requires separate registration of all places of worship and religious schools. Unregistered places of worship and religious schools may be shut down temporarily until they are registered, although the MCR reports it has not taken such action. The law also makes a legal distinction between “places of worship” and “offices of prayer.” The establishment of a place of worship requires that the founders own the structure and the land on which it is located. The facility must have a minimum capacity of 200 persons, and the permit application requires the support of at least 100 congregants. By contrast, an office of prayer may be located in a rented property and has no minimum capacity requirement. The permit application for an office of prayer requires the support of at least 25 congregants. Places of worship must be located at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) from each other and may not be used for political purposes or to house criminals or fugitives. The distance requirement applies only to the construction of new places of worship and not to offices of religious organizations or offices of prayer.
Religious schools must be registered with the MCR and the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport (MOEYS). Religious schools are advised to follow the MOEYS core curriculum which does not include a religious component; however, schools may supplement lessons with a religious curriculum in addition to the ministry-core curriculum. The government promotes Buddhist religious instruction in public schools in coordination with MOEYS, although non-Buddhist students were allowed to opt out of this instruction. The law does not mandate non-Buddhist religious instruction, and no other religions are taught in public schools. Non-Buddhist religious instruction may, however, be provided by private institutions.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In early June the government closed Radio Sap Cham, a daily hour-long radio program broadcasting since 2004 on issues related to the preservation of Cham identity, language, religion, and culture. It was the only Cham-language radio program in the country and the closure drew criticism from the Cham community on social media. The government did not elaborate on the reasons for shutting down the program.
In June the Ratanakiri provincial government dispersed a group of approximately 50 ethnic minority Jarai Christians who had gathered for a Bible study session, saying they had not obtained proper permission from the local authorities. Later that month, provincial police briefly detained three ethnic Jarai and ordered them to delete photographs of prayer meetings stored on their personal electronic devices. Local media reported that authorities broke up the gatherings because of fears the group was focusing on political issues.
In September the National Election Committee released a statement reaffirming the rights of Muslims to wear religious headscarves or caps in voter registration photographs, marking a departure from previous restrictions against wearing headscarves and caps in photographs used for official identification documents.
The government continued to promote Buddhist holidays, provide Buddhist training and education to monks and others in pagodas, and provide financial support to an institute that performed research and published materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, continued to hear testimony related to charges of ethnic- and religious-based genocide against the Cham population during the Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979.
According to Radio Free Asia, in June authorities allowed police from Vietnam to question a group of approximately 150 Vietnamese Montagnard Christian refugees in Phnom Penh. Activist groups and the representatives of the UNHCR said refugees should not be subject to interviews from police of the country they fled. According to media reports, the Montagnards expressed fear following the questioning that the Cambodian government would deport them back to Vietnam, which they reportedly fled because of religious and other reasons. In a statement to Radio Free Asia, government officials said they were unaware of the Vietnamese police visit; some of the Montagnards said, however, that the Vietnamese police were accompanied by local police. In October the Ministry of Interior announced that a majority of the remaining Montagnards had not been granted asylum following extensive interviews, stating “their answers do not comply with the convention on refugees.” Local media initially reported the ministry provided them two weeks’ notice to leave the country or face arrest and immediate deportation to Vietnam. In December the UNHCR escorted 13 of the Montagnards back to their villages in Vietnam. Because religion, ethnicity, and politics are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the government’s actions as being solely based on religious identity.
During Ramadan, Prime Minister Hun Sen hosted an iftar for members of the Muslim community. In his speech, he told his guests there was no basis for political discrimination in the country and called on Buddhist followers to be tolerant and accepting of the Muslim and Christian communities.