A monk from the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice was arrested and defrocked on Wednesday on suspicion of illegally possessing weapons, though But Buntenh, the group’s president, said the “weapon” was merely a toy gun.
Police in Battambang City’s Svay Por commune arrested Horn Sophanny, 24, after he failed to appear in court in April over photographs he posted online of himself playing with a plastic gun, according to But Buntenh. Police accused the young monk of illegal weapons possession and damaging Buddhism, he added.
Mr. Sophanny, who has been a member of the monk network since 2013, was arrested at the Damrei Sar pagoda at midday “while monks were sleeping,” he said. There were about 20 police officers, including some in plain clothes, he added.
Deputy provincial police chief Chet Vanny confirmed the arrest, adding only that “I just implemented the court’s order,” before hanging up on a reporter.
But Buntenh said Mr. Sophanny had been inappropriate in posting the photos; however, he said the young monk had been unfairly targeted for his political activism.
“Mr. Sophanny had engaged as a coordinator and observer during the elections,” he said. “They want to make it a political issue…. Authorities want to pressure and threaten us.”
He compared Wednesday’s heavy-handedness to the lack of action against CNRP activist-turned-CPP supporter Thy Sovantha, who appeared to make violent threats toward opposition leader Kem Sokha on Facebook last year.
“When Thy Sovantha’s group held guns and threatened to shoot Kem Sokha’s head, authorities ignored that,” he said.
Battambang provincial court spokeswoman Teang Sombo said Mr. Sophanny was being detained at the provincial police headquarters and would be sent to the court today.