PHNOM PENH: Cambodian police on Monday said they are seeking three suspects, including one believed to be in Thailand, over an offensive photoshopped image online of the country’s king that placed him in a gay porn scene.
The image, which appeared on some Facebook accounts in both Cambodia and Thailand this week, is a rare public insult aimed at King Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch who is largely respected and deemed above the country’s political fray.
While insulting the king is technically illegal in Cambodia, it is rarely prosecuted and does not carry the notoriously stiff penalties seen in neighbouring Thailand where critics of the monarchy have seen decades-long jail sentences handed down.
General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, confirmed an investigation had been launched.
“We have got orders to arrest them,” he told AFP. “If we don’t take action against them, more people might follow their act.”
He declined to specify which law the three suspects might have broken but said: “The king represents the whole nation and they are insulting the king, which is like they are insulting the whole nation.”
Two suspects were believed to be in Cambodia with the third thought to be in Thailand, he added, saying authorities would consider asking for help from Bangkok.
Article 445 of Cambodia’s criminal code punishes insulting the king with a fine or up to six months in jail.
“It’s certainly not as draconian as Thailand’s but the lese-majeste clause is there and has been used a few times in recent years,” said Andrea Giorgetta, from the International Federation of Human Rights.
Sihamoni ascended the throne in 2004 following the abdication of his father King Norodom Sihanouk.
Observers say he has ruled quietly as a constitutional monarch, fulfilling a symbolic role as head of state and, unlike his father, staying away from domestic politics.
Sihamoni speaks French, Czech and English after spending much of his adult life abroad pursuing a career in the arts — including establishing his own ballet company — before taking the throne.
He is unmarried and has no children.