Christian Church Ransacked in Svay Rieng Province

Police have been deployed to protect Christian churches across Svay Rieng province after a 200-strong mob demonstrated on Sunday, then ransacked a Chris­tian place of worship they blamed for causing a three-year-long drought.

No one was injured in the attack in Svay Prouhuot village, Svay Chrum district, on Sunday morning, but windows, shutters, tables, lights and electric fans were destroyed and dozens of Christian Bibles were dumped in a nearby pond and paddy fields, police and witnesses said.

Some 200 villagers descended on the concrete villa-style residence housing the place of worship. But only around 20 protesters, some armed with hammers, took part in the systematic de­struction, provincial Police Chief Sorth Nordy said Monday.

“The villagers were very angry over the drought. The villagers blamed the church on the lack of rain in that village for three years,” Sorth Nordy said. “They want to destroy the church and not have it in the village anymore. They hope the rain will come back,” he said.

“Now I order the police to strengthen security and protect all churches in my province. But I do not think other churches will have problems like this one,” he added.

It was the first-ever outbreak of religious conflict between Bud­dhists and Christians in Svay Rieng province. There are more than 30 Christian churches located in the province, officials said.

Sorth Nordy said police intervention had prevented further destruction to the church. He would not explain why suspects were not arrested, but confirmed that the village where the church was located had not seen rain in recent years.

“We do not arrest the people. We just advise them not to do like this. Now the problem is being discussed between the district officials and the church representatives,” Sorth Nordy said.

Minister of Cults and Religion Chea Savoeun said on Monday the attack was completely unlawful, because the right to worship by all faiths is protected under Cambodian law.

Mao Sary, director of Svay Rieng’s department of cults and religion, also said on Monday the incident had not yet been reported to her office.

“The law does not allow to do like this because they have permission from the province and the government to open their church,” Mao Sary said.

Police Chief Sorth Nordy said the people who took part in the attack accused Christians of insulting the Buddhist practice of giving offerings to monks.

“Christian people say that if you join Buddhism you give rice, food and money to the monks. But if you join Christianity, you do not pay like that. Instead you will get the gift from the church,” he said.

In October, hundreds of villagers took part in anti-Christian demonstrations in neighboring Prey Veng province and distributed letters comparing Christians to Pol Pot and claimed that Christian groups were criticizing Buddhism.

Letters were also circulated by a group calling itself The Committee of 20 Pagodas which warned of “religious war” in Prey Veng province. The letters accused some Christian groups of working as a political, underground force that made Khmers betray their nation and religion.

Branded a preemptive measure to prevent religious conflicts erupting between Buddhists and Christians, the Ministry of Cults and Religion issued a wide-ranging directive in January prohibiting Christian proselytizing and the dissemination of religious propaganda in public.

The directive also prohibited Christian groups from knocking on peoples’ doors or uttering the words “the Lord is coming” in public.

“Teaching of religions must respect other religions and avoid insulting and degrading each other, especially Buddhism, the state religion. Avoid all problems which may provoke religious conflict,” the directive stated.

(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)


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