Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at an unnamed NGO on Saturday for using Buddhist pagodas to stage political forums and voice defamatory statements, and warned monks to stay away from politics.
The NGO has “used the pagodas to curse [and] to stage political forums,” Hun Sen said during the inauguration of a new building at Phnom Penh’s Wat Langka, as broadcast on Apsara television.
“People will stop participating in the Kathen ceremony because they will stop believing in the [impartiality] of pagodas,” said Hun Sen, referring to the annual ritual where members of the community visit pagodas and donate essentials such as food and clothing.
Monks “should not use the pagodas to do politics,” he added. Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, head of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect and a known supporter of the CPP, concurred with Hun Sen’s comments Sunday and said he was considering ordering all pagoda chiefs to ban public forums in which insulting language is used. Tep Vong said that the only public forums in which he knew insulting language has been used were staged by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
The prime minister has lashed out at an unnamed NGO on several occasions in recent months. On Jan 26, he accused the group of being a puppet and ear piece of its sponsor, the US-based International Republican Institute, a critic of the Hun Sen government. On Nov 15, the prime minister blasted a rights worker he called Akuk Sora in a speech that seemed to allude to Kem Sokha, director of the CCHR.
Kem Sokha charged Sunday that Hun Sen’s latest statement was intended to intimidate and discourage people from attending public forums.
“This is a warning statement to my supporters,” Kem Sokha said.
He said pagodas are ideal venues to hold public forums because of their relatively large size and because they provide shade from the sun. He said the decision to allow public forums to be staged on pagoda grounds was up to the chief monk of each pagoda only.
Chan Soveth, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, said Cambodia’s pagodas are public property and disputed Tep Vong’s claim that insulting language is voiced at CCHR’s public forums.
“I heard only argument, no cursing,” he said.
Kem Sokha said that since Hun Sen statements against the unnamed NGO, CCHR forums had been marred by disturbances and police harassment.
On Jan 29, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha and their supporters were stopped at a police roadblock and had their vehicles searched for weapons after a CCHR forum at Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district.
Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said on Sunday that the prime minister’s message was not intended to intimidate the CCHR.