Police in Phnom Penh arrested five Wat Langka pagoda boys yesterday morning for allegedly beating a suspected thief to death in retaliation for stealing a Buddhist monk’s mobile telephone, according to police.
The thief is believed to have climbed a tree shortly after midnight and entered a second-floor room of the pagoda in Chamkar Mon district with the intention of stealing a mobile telephone from a sleeping monk, said Koul Sophat, Boeng Keng Kang commune police chief.
When the monk awoke, he shouted “thief!” and the suspects chased down the victim and mobbed him, he said.
After beating him unconscious, they dragged him out to the street and left him in a dimly lit area.
“They confessed that they beat the thief who had stolen a monk’s mobile phone. They used wooden sticks to beat him and punched him unconscious, then they took the thief out and put him near the fence of Wat Langka on Sihanouk Boulevard,” Mr Sophat said.
The victim was found around 1 am by commune police patrolling the area and sent to Calmette Hospital, said Mr Sophat. He died en route.
“In the past, many thieves steal the monks’ phones and computers, so the pagoda boys were extremely angry when they saw this thief,” added Mr Sophat.
An official at Calmette Hospital who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media said the victim was
pronounced dead on arrival due to internal injuries.
District police chief Heang Thareth said the five men were in police custody and would be sent to court tomorrow morning.
Neither he nor Mr Sophat would give the names or ages of the suspects. “Pagoda boys” are boys or young men who are given shelter in a pagoda, sometimes in exchange for performing odd jobs.
At Wat Langka yesterday, many refused to talk about the case.
Two pagoda boys living in the next room said they woke up to the cacophony and saw the victim being kicked and punched by the suspects, but would not comment in detail or give their names.
Another monk living nearby, who also asked to remain anonymous, citing the ongoing investigation, said he was deeply unhappy to hear of the crime. “I’ve lived here more than 20 years, but I’ve never seen a case like this,” he said. “I’m so sorry because he’s a thief, but he’s also a human being. There’s no need to do a violation like this.”
Sao Chanthol, chief monk at Wat Langka, said the case was completely in the hands of the police and declined to comment in detail. “I am so sorry that this has happened in my pagoda,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Abby Seiff)