Cambodia bans Christian proselytizing

Agence France-Presse, Feb. 28, 2003

Predominantly Buddhist Cambodia has barred Christian groups from proselytizing and disseminating religious propaganda in public, religious officials said on Friday.

The move aims to head off potential religious conflict stirred up by what the government sees as overzealous preaching of the faith in Khmer communities.

“All public proselytizing activities are prohibited,” according to a directive released by the ministry of cults and religious affairs.

“Christians are not allowed to proselytize (at) citizens’ houses by knocking on doors or waiting for them, saying ‘the Lord is coming,’ which is an interruption of daily life or may intrude on privacy in the community,” it added.

Evangelical Christians and Muslims have vigorously promoted various brands of religion since Cambodia began emerging from its communist past more than a decade ago.

“Some Christian groups are not good. They force people to believe in Christianity,” undersecretary of state for cults and religious affairs Dok Narin said, explaining that groups often went door-to-door pressuring people, mainly Buddhists, to join their sect.

“These actions infringe on the rights of the Cambodian people,” Dok Narin said.

The clampdown, which reportedly began in January, has to date shown limited success, he added.

A director of an international Christian organisation working in the country said the decision would not affect many Christian charity operations.

“I don’t think it’s a blow for groups operating under the guidelines of government ministries,” said the director, who did not want to be identified.

“Activities done in a manner which are respective of other groups would not challenge that directive.”

Last November the ministry supported Cambodian teachers’ demands that the word “god” be struck from school text books, saying that putting the interests of god above all others was not a Buddhist principle.

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