Monk Tells of Persecution of Buddhists Under Khmer Rouge

Kampot province’s chief monk on Monday became the first Buddhist monk to testify publicly at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, describing to the court how clergy were referred to as “leeches and worms” by cadre as Pol Pot’s regime attempted to cleanse the country of religion.

Em Phoeung—who trekked to Takeo province’s Tram Kak district after the regime emptied the capital in 1975 and was defrocked about a year later—recalled hearing of fellow monks being purged and explained how the regime tried to completely eradicate religion to make way for a “culture of labor.”

Em Phoeung, Kampot province's chief monk, gives evidence at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. (ECCC)
Em Phoeung, Kampot province’s chief monk, gives evidence at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday. (ECCC)

“[After] those three years, eight months and 20 days there was no longer any Buddhist monks left in the monkhood…. We had to engage in labor whether young or old,” Em Phoeung said.

“The principle was that there would no longer be Buddhism in Cambodia because they said that religion would lead to no progress at all and there would be more free people who would just sit still and enjoy food offered by other people,” he said, adding that regular meetings would be held to encourage the religion’s denunciation.

Although Em Phoeung said he did not witness any killings personally, he told the tribunal that a fellow monk informed him of clergy being murdered in Tram Kak’s Samraong commune and advised him to “not have any conflict with Angkar” to avoid a similar fate.

In an apparent contradiction in the regime’s attempts to cleanse the country of its Buddhist roots—which included turning pagodas into prisons—Em Phoeung said he was asked to give his blessing during a forced marriage ceremony in 1978 involving about 30 couples.

The monk, who now resides at Wat Chum Kriel in Kampot, said he avoided a forced marriage himself, despite requests from his local village chief.

“They said you are rather old and you should get married, but I said I don’t need a wife because Angkar was magic…. After that they kept silent and ignored me until liberation,” he said, adding that other friends of his in the clergy were forced to marry.

Following Em Phoeung’s testimony, the defense teams of both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide, asked for proceedings to be postponed while they assess some 300 new statements the prosecution has submitted to the current file for Case 004.

The lawyers argued that the documents could relate to crimes allegedly committed in Tram Kak district and at Kraing Ta Chan prison, which are a focus of the ongoing second phase of Case 002, and could impact future witness testimony.

The Trial Chamber decided that the submissions do not relate to the next witness, Nov Yao, and ruled that proceedings would continue on Tuesday.

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