Passed unanimously by the country’s parliament on Friday, the law calls for a three-year prison sentence for those who break quarantine orders, and up to twenty years in jail for any group that intentionally spreads the virus.
Cambodia’s Health Minister Mam Bunheng hailed the law as a way to “protect public health.”
The southeast Asian nation has registered 932 Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, but has yet to record a single death linked to the virus.
Critics claim that the law is excessive and can be used by the government to crackdown on political opponents. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that the legislation will “further erode the rights of activists and dissidents.”
“Imposing ridiculously harsh penalties for Covid-19 infractions goes against both public health and human rights principles,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
The law was passed days after exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to 25 years in jail over an alleged plot to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years.
Cambodia is far from the only country to impose harsh punishments for those who run afoul of Covid measures. Last month the UK government threatened an up to 10-year prison term for anyone caught falsifying their travel history when entering the country in breach of quarantine rules.
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