PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA —
The Cambodian National Assembly on Friday unanimously passed a draft bill that empowers the government to impose restrictions to curb the spread of infectious diseases but also contains strict prison sentences of up to 20 years.
The draft legislation, called “Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases,” was approved by a special cabinet meeting last Sunday and passed by 83 Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers on Friday.
The draft bill allows the government to impose health measures, like wearing masks, social distancing and quarantine measures, to quell the spread of infectious and contagious diseases, including COVID-19.
Administrative powers in the bill allow the government to restrict travel, prohibit business activities and cordon off areas with COVID-19.
The legislation also places severe prison sentences and fines for violating these measures. Escaping from self-quarantine can be punishable with up to 3 years in prison and anyone caught evading treatment or escaping a medical facility will face up to 10 years in prison.
A person caught “deliberately spreading” COVID-19 can get up to 10 years in prison, but if this act is committed by an “organized group” then the prison sentence can be up to 20 years.
The law will also allow the government to suspend a business’ operations or a firm’s license.
While the legislation’s title puts other contagious diseases under its scope, all the articles are specifically related to COVID-19, and it is unclear how it can be used in other situations.
The draft legislation is the second law proposed by the government to control the spread of COVID-19. Last April, it hurriedly drafted and passed a state of emergency law giving it sweeping powers to curtail fundamental freedoms and rights.
That law was also intended for a pandemic and has some overlap with the COVID-19 draft legislation.
Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the draft legislation at a Thursday press conference. He justified the need for this legislation pointing to recent incidents of people flouting quarantine guidelines.
“With the breach of quarantine at the Sokha Hotel by two Chinese women, who conspired with the hotel’s security guard to escape, how can we punish them when we do not have [relevant] laws?” Hun Sen said.