The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, as long as 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, but it does not elaborate the legal consequences for those who violate this restriction. 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. The law mandates that groups must inform the government of the goals of their religious organization; describe their activities; provide biographical information for all religious leaders; describe funding sources; submit 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 that can take up to 90 days. There are no penalties for failing to register, but registered religious groups receive an income tax exemption from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The law bans non-Buddhist groups from proselytizing publicly and stipulates that non-Buddhist literature may be distributed only inside religious institutions. The law also prohibits offers of money or materials to convince persons to convert.
The law requires separate registration of all places of worship and religious schools. Authorities may shut down temporarily unregistered places of worship and religious schools until they are registered, although there were no reports of the MCR enforcing this. 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. 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). The MOEYS advises religious schools to follow the ministry’s core curriculum, which does not include a religious component; however, schools may supplement the ministry’s core curriculum with Buddhist lessons. The government requires public schools to coordinate with MOEYS when implementing supplemental Buddhist lessons. Non-Buddhist students may opt out of this instruction. The law does not allow non-Buddhist religious instruction in public schools. Non-Buddhist religious instruction may be provided by private institutions.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Nuon Chea, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018 related to charges of ethnic- and religious-based genocide against ethnic Vietnamese and the Cham population during the Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979, died at the age of 93, before the Khmer Rouge Tribunal had heard his appeal of the verdict.
The government continued to refuse to allow the UNHCR to permanently accept a group of Christian Montagnards from Vietnam who came to the country to claim refugee status. Of the estimated 200 Christian Montagnards who had fled Vietnam and were in Cambodia in 2017, 27 remained in the country. The government deported four back to Vietnam in June. Rights activists expressed concern that Montagnards deported to Vietnam would face harsh treatment upon their return. The UNHCR said that one of the four returned voluntarily, while the other three were found ineligible for refugee status by the UNHCR. Again in June, the government said it would allow the remaining 27 to move to a third country if the UNHCR would obtain approval from the Vietnamese government. The UNHCR rejected the proposal, however, saying the Cambodian government should communicate with the Vietnamese government directly.
The government continued to promote Buddhist holidays by grants of official status and declarations of government holidays. The government also provided Buddhist training and education to monks and laypersons in pagodas, and it gave financial support to an institute that performed research and published materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions. The government did not grant similar treatment to other religious groups, including by declaring religious holidays.
On May 7, Prime Minister Hun Sen hosted an iftar, with Member of the Malaysian Parliament Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar, a member of the Selagor Islamic Religious Council, representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, 320 Muslims of 32 foreign nationalities, and 4,750 Cambodian Muslims in attendance. This marked the sixth straight year the prime minister hosted the event and he pledged to continue doing so. In his remarks, he promised to maintain “religious harmony to ensure Cambodia is free from ethnic and religious conflict.”
In October at a dinner with 3,000 Christians in Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that the country did not experience any religious conflict. He encouraged those in attendance to maintain peace, security, and public order in the country.
In May, at a Quran recitation ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An called on Muslims in the country to oppose foreign intervention in the country’s internal affairs. She asked Muslims to “maintain peace, political stability, territorial sovereignty, and oppose attempts to have a color revolution and any attempts to meddle in internal national issues.”
On May 8, Health Minister Mam Bunheng issued a statement ordering all directors of public hospitals to prepare prayer rooms nationwide to facilitate the worship of Muslim staff and patients. On May 15, the MOEYS followed suit and requested 125 state and private institutes and universities across the country to add prayer rooms to their campuses.
On March 26, the government announced a decision to remove 742 hectares (1,800 acres) of land from an economic concession to Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai and return it to indigenous communities in Rattanakiri Province, which predominantly practice animist beliefs.