Council Member Says Ban on Monks’ Protesting Unconstitutional

A Constitutional Council member said a new ban on monks participating in peaceful demonstrations violates the Constitution, but Cambodia’s top Buddhist Patriarch Tep Vong maintained June 25 that monks who march or demonstrate are violating religious law.

Supreme Patriarch Non Nget announced the ban on June 24, saying peaceful protests by monks could cause “disorder.”

“There is no law banning people—or monks—from protesting,” Consti­tutional Council member Son Sou­bert said Sunday. He added that the ban “violates the constitutional law of Cambodia” and called on the government to explain its position.

But Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong—who in 2003 banned monks from voting and in 2005 banned rights groups from using pagodas as meeting places—said that the ban is legitimate because participating in demonstrations violates the laws governing monastic life.

Tep Vong, who was deputy president of the National Assembly during the 1980s, said that monks dem­onstrating “violates religious rules,” though he declined to elaborate.

Current Deputy National Assem­b­ly President and CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel said that monks should retain their right to non-partisan demonstration but cannot get involved in politics.

The demonstration ban was signed June 8 by both Cults and Re­ligion Minister Khun Haing and Supreme Patriarch Non Nget.

Monks around Phnom Penh had mixed reactions to the ban June 25. One from Wat Langka, who asked that his name not be published, said that he supported the ban because marches can become violent and cause chaos. “I just concentrate on my study of Buddhist law without thinking of any protests,” he said.

Tip Sao, a 25-year-old monk from Wat Botum, said he would follow the chief monks’ orders despite his personal reservations about the ban. “We have the right to participate in a peaceful march,” he said, adding that monks still take inspiration from the 1990s peace marches of Moha Ghosananda, a monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times before his death in March.

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