Seldom today does one hear of a person being charged with lese-majeste, yet 43-year-old Wang Zia Chao a Chinese garment factory supervisor was found guilty of this crime on Tuesday, 23 October 2012 by a judge in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Her crime was "...intentionally damaging the photos..." of recently deceased former King Norodom Sihanouk who abdicated in favour of one of his sons in 2004 and died in Beijing, aged 89, on 15 October. The former King's body was flown back to Phnom Penh on 17 October and taken to the Royal Palace for a week of official mourning.
Sopheng Cheang reporting for Associated Press described how Ms Wang was fined a total equivalent of $1,120 (a considerable sum and well over a year's average income in one of the world's poorest countries) including compensation to the "victim", the owner of the photos; handed a one-year suspended prison sentence; was fired by her employer and will by now, have been deported from the country.
A bit hard for doing one's job one might think as Ms Wang and her likes are not in Cambodia on some cultural exchange - she claimed in Court that if she had known whose photos they were, she would not have done it. She cut up the two photos because her shift workers at the Top World Garment Factory, kept "shirking" from their tasks by stopping production to look upon the revered "King-Father". Maybe her real error was not to take the situation to her superior or a native Cambodian manager?
Soon however, more than a thousand angry staff at the factory were demanding that she be punished and the firm's owners called in the police, probably as much for the supervisor's safety. Phnom Penh's police chief, Lt General Chuon Sovann said that if his men had not arrived when they did that Ms Wang would have been in serious physical danger. The 43-year-old was led from the factory in handcuffs and was photographed later on her knees (still cuffed) holding joss sticks and bowing before a (presumably much larger) photo of the dead King.
Top World supplies many top name outlets and brands in the First World, no surprise! On 29 October, China News Agency, Xinhua quoted Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, leader of the People's Party (CPP) forecast growth this year to reach seven per cent and inflation to drop to 2.9 per cent. Spectacular by current increases or decreases that the developed economies are experiencing, this will bring Cambodia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head to...Well, what do you know, $1,120!
Much of the growth Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to will be due to a big increase in garment exports which, at $3.54 billion, rose by 11 per cent during the first eight months of this year. But with over 400,000 workers in this sector in the capital alone (Greater Phnom Penh 2.3 million) it is unlikely that Ms Wang's story is welcome news to the Government, if only for the less-than-modern image of Cambodia that it projects to the very entrepreneurs the country is seeking to attract. Then of course it is unlikely that when 60-year-old Hun Sen eventually dies, will he receive anything like the reverence and obvious expressions of sorrow which have been witnessed for the former King. Such is a politician's lot!
Further good news on the economic front was announced by the Prime Minister whilst addressing a conference at the Asia-Europe University in the capital. He was pleased to report a 24 per cent rise in overseas tourists on comparable figures from 2011 to 2.33 million visitors and a massive 83 per cent increase in construction sector investment over the first nine months of 2012 to total $1.83 billion
There very much appears to be two Cambodias, one striving to play catch-up with neighbours like Vietnam with a GDP per head 55 per cent or so larger and one which still wishes to observe the traditional Buddhist values and lifestyle. It was this latter which so nearly cost Ms Wang serious harm. The fact is that although Phnom Penh is fast building all the usual signs of a large modern city, most of its population are relative newcomers who have migrated from the countryside.
Phnom Penh was referred to before Cambodia's Independence form the French in 1953 as the "Pearl of the East" and is still noted for its beautiful historic architecture, including it French colonial buildings and "grands boulevards". Its population was about half-a-million in the early 1970s but swelled to three million, most of whom were fleeing refugees, on the eve of its capture by the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. As the "Killing Fields" took their horrific toll, by 1978 the population of the city was an estimated 32,000. Although many former citizens returned once more to the city after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, city dwellers had been specially selected for extermination in Pol Pot's and his associates' desire to form a totally agrarian Communist society mixed with Khmer nationalism and xenophobia.
The biggest portion of the current city's population are migrants. More Buddhist, more traditional, less likely to be well educated and much more thoughtful of King-Father Norodom Sihanouk, who, during his life and despite his faults, always emphasised that whatever he did, he did it for his country and its people. In contrast, the current Government is earning a rather odious reputation for corruption and forced land grabs. When the urban population is still only 20 per cent of the country and the agriculture sector of the economy is still some 55 per cent of the labour force the Government needs to ask itself some serious questions.
Whilst Ms Wang was being awarded due punishment King Norodom Sihamoni, head shaved and in traditional white mourning dress, was taking hold of several of the hands of a vast crowd which had come to share the grief that he and the rest of the Royal Family were feeling for his departed father at the start of an official three-month mourning period. The Government had expected a big crowd of 100,000. Apparently it was closer to 1.2 million. Something else that could give the PM something to think on.