Local rights group Adhoc on Tuesday accused authorities of forcibly deporting a Khmer Krom monk to Vietnam, while the SRP urged Cambodia’s top Buddhist Patriarch Tep Vong to locate the defrocked clergyman and reinstate him at his Takeo province pagoda.
Chan Soveth, Adhoc investigator and spokesman for the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said that contrary to claims by the Interior Ministry, Tim Sakhorn did not go willingly to Vietnam on Saturday after being defrocked on Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong’s orders.
“It was an illegal abduction. The authorities forcibly deported Tim Sakhorn to Vietnam. He will face problems in Vietnam,” Chan Soveth said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, who on Monday said that Tim Sakhorn had signed an agreement consenting to go to Vietnam of his own volition, dismissed Chan Soveth’s allegations of forced deportation.
“We please the monks better than the human rights organizations,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that the Khmer Krom enjoy equal rights in Cambodia, and reiterating that Tim Sakhorn was not forced out of the country.
Tim Theang, Tim Sakhorn’s 80-year-old father, said by telephone from Takeo province that his 40-year-old son had been living in Cambodia since 1979. He also said that his son had been providing food and shelter to Khmer Krom monks and laymen crossing the border from southern Vietnam.
“I am concerned about his security very much,” Tim Theang said. “I want to know his location…. I am viewing him as a dead person as he has disappeared,” he said.
Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council who is also a Khmer Krom, issued a statement saying that the defrocking was politically motivated and contravened Buddhist doctrine.
Asked about Tim Sakhorn’s case, government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said authorities are investigating whether Christians may have been inciting Buddhist monks to make trouble.
Khieu Kanharith claimed the real reason for Kim Sakhorn’s defrocking may been that he was having sex with women, rather than undermining Cambodia’s relations with Hanoi.
Christians may be hiring people to become monks and then have affairs with women, hoping that this will encourage others to convert to Christianity, Khieu Kanharith continued.
Accusations that a monk has damaged political relations with Vietnam are not adequate grounds for a religious man to be defrocked, he added.
In a June 16 directive, Tep Vong ordered Tim Sakhorn defrocked, accusing him of undermining the relationship between Phnom Penh and Hanoi by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his Phnom Den commune pagoda in Takeo’s Kiri Vong district.
Prak Sarann, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, has said that Tim Sakhorn was taking in ethnic Khmer monks from Vietnam who claimed to be fleeing persecution in that country.
During a two-day investigation by Adhoc following the disappearance of Tim Sakhorn on Saturday, witnesses said they saw four men in bodyguard uniform forcing the monk into a Toyota Camry outside his pagoda, Chan Soveth said.
Mom Mony, Takeo provincial director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Association, said he witnessed Tim Sakhorn being put into a car shortly before 4 pm Saturday, adding that the monk did not want to leave Cambodia.
“He waved his hands and told his students to leave,” Mom Mony said. “I saw him walk toward the vehicle and being pushed into the car,” he added.
Contacted Tuesday, Tep Vong refused to answer questions on the case and Hing Bun Heang, an adviser to Tep Vong on Buddhist issues and chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit, said he knew nothing about the deportation.
Vietnamese Embassy spokesman Trinh Ba Cam said he was also unaware of Tim Sakhorn’s return to Vietnam.
“It is a Cambodian affair. I don’t have information,” he said. “If [Tim Sakhorn] breaches the law, he must be arrested. If he does not he will not be arrested,” Trinh Ba Cam said, though he did not elaborate.
In a statement received Tuesday, the SRP condemned Tep Vong’s decision to order the defrocking.
“SRP lawmakers demand that Tep Vong stop this illegal action and find the monk Tim Sakhorn and reinstate him,” the statement added.