The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday laid charges against two former monks who were arrested in Pur Senchey district on Saturday for possession of drugs, fake documents and weapons, but the duo maintains that they were framed in retaliation for their political activism.
The court charged Dav Tep, 28, and Chea Vanda, 30, with possession of drugs and fake documents, and with making death threats, according to Muth Piseth, their lawyer.
“My clients denied all the accusations of the police to the investigating judge because they did not do what the court charged them with,” said Ms. Piseth, an attorney working for rights group Adhoc. “They denied that any of that stuff belonged to them.”
Mr. Tep and Mr. Vanda were arrested on Saturday morning at Angtaminh pagoda in Choam Chao commune, where police said they found a small quantity of crystal methamphetamine in their rooms, along with a sword, a knife and an ax. They also discovered a pair of women’s underwear and forged documents—copies of the forms required by the Ministry of Cults and Religion to enter the monkhood.
The men were defrocked on Saturday afternoon.
Ms. Piseth said the death threat charges stemmed from an argument that Mr. Tep had with a pagoda boy about a week ago.
On Sunday, the pagoda boy, Chuon Ratha, 22, said police convinced him to thumbprint a complaint against Mr. Tep. Mr. Ratha said he later tried to withdraw the complaint, but that police refused to let him.
“It was just a misunderstanding and it was a small issue,” Mr. Ratha said of the argument with Mr. Tep.
Waiting to be charged outside the judge’s chambers at the municipal court Monday, Mr. Vanda said that he and Mr. Tep were innocent.
“We did not do this because we are monks,” he said. “If we wanted to do that, we would be normal people and go do it.”
Mr. Tep said that he and Mr. Vanda were likely being punished for their activism, particularly their participation in demonstrations along the Vietnamese border in recent months.
“We used to go to the border with CNRP lawmakers—including in Svay Rieng, Ratanakkiri and Kandal—and participate [in protests] against other social injustices,” he said.
Kong Samsareth, the deputy prosecutor in charge of the case, said he provisionally charged the former monks and forwarded the case to Investigating Judge Ei Thavareak.
“We found drugs, a knife and an ax. We charged them based on police reports and evidence,” he said, declining to elaborate.
Mr. Thavareak could not be reached.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator for Adhoc, said that because neither monk was present when police searched their rooms at the pagoda, none of the evidence collected should be admissible in court.
“Therefore, we call on the court to drop all charges against them and release them,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)