Two defrocked monks charged with possessing methamphetamine, using fake documents and making death threats against a pagoda boy went on trial on Tuesday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, denying the charges, which they claim are politically motivated.
Dav Tep, 32, and Chea Vanda, 30, say their arrests in August at Angtaminh pagoda in Pur Senchey district—where police said they found 0.02 grams of crystal methamphetamine in their rooms, along with a sword, a knife and an ax—were based on planted evidence and carried out in retaliation for their political activism in support of the opposition CNRP.
Police also discovered condoms, a pair of women’s underwear and forged versions of documents that the Ministry of Cults and Religion requires for entry into the monkhood. The third charge is over alleged threats against Chuon Ratha, 22, following an argument Mr. Tep had with the pagoda boy.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Presiding Judge Im Vannak asked Mr. Tep if he knew about the items that had been found in his room.
“What about the clothes and sword…which were found under the bed?” the judge asked.
“I did not know about this, and I did not know who wanted to harm me,” Mr. Tep responded. “I did not see it, and when police checked, I was not there.”
When the judge then asked why he had thumbprinted a police report saying the items belonged to him, Mr. Tep said: “I did not thumbprint it voluntarily, but when I arrived [at] the district police headquarters, they forced me to thumbprint [the report].”
Judge Im Vannak went on to question Mr. Vanda regarding the crystal methamphetamine found in the room.
“Did you own anything involved with drugs?” Judge Vannak asked.
“I don’t know about this or even the cigarettes. I don’t know how to smoke,” Mr. Vanda said.
The men went on to deny faking the documents that showed they were monks, telling the court they had properly entered the monkhood at two separate pagodas in the provinces before moving to Phnom Penh.
Ham Sunrith, the lawyer for the former monks, urged the court to drop the charges, saying there was not enough evidence to charge his clients because they were not present when police searched their rooms, and there were no other witnesses to the search.
“The court charged my client with faking documents,” he added. “I want to see what documents he had faked. There is no proof showing that my clients faked anything.”
Judge Vannak said a verdict would be announced on April 1.