Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Cambodia 2012 International Religious Freedom Report*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

Cambodia 2012 International Religious Freedom Report*

Article excerpt

Section I. Religious Demography

The population is over 14.9 million, according to a July 2012 U.S. government estimate. An estimated 96 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist. The vast majority of ethnic-Khmer Cambodians are Buddhist, and there is a close association between Buddhism, Khmer cultural traditions, and identity and daily life. According to the Ministry of Cults and Religion, the Mahayana school of Buddhism has approximately 19,550 followers and has 167 temples throughout the country.

Approximately 2.4 percent of the population, predominantly ethnic Chams, is Muslim, typically living in towns and rural fishing villages on the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River, as well as in Kampot Province. There are four branches of Islam represented in the country: the Malay-influenced Shafibranch, practiced by as much as 90 percent of Muslims; the Saudi-Kuwaitiinfluenced Salafi(Wahhabi) branch; the indigenous Iman-San branch; and the Kadiani branch. The remaining 1.6 percent of the population is Bahai, Jewish, ethnic Vietnamese Cao Dai, or members of various Christian denominations.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. Buddhism is the state religion, and the government promotes Buddhist holidays, provides Buddhist training and education to monks and others in pagodas, and modestly supports an institute that performs research and publishes materials on Khmer culture and Buddhist traditions.

The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhist groups, to submit applications to the Ministry of Cults and Religions if they wish to construct places of worship and conduct religious activities. In their applications, groups must state clearly their religious purposes and activities, which must comply with provisions forbidding religious groups from insulting other religious groups, creating disputes, or undermining national security. There is no penalty for failing to register, and some groups do not register.

The government 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 building and the land where 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 can be located in rented facilities or on rented property and does not require a minimum capacity for the facility; such a permit application requires only 20 supporters.

The Directive on Controlling External Religions requires registration of all places of worship and religious schools. Places of worship must be located at least two kilometers (1.24 miles) from each other and may not be used for political purposes or to house criminals or fugitives from the law. The distance requirement applies only to the construction of new places of worship and not to offices of religious organizations. There are no cases documented in which the directive was used to bar a church or mosque from constructing a new facility. …

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