A Buddhist monk was ordered to leave one of Phnom Penh’s largest pagodas on Monday after he attended the pro-opposition rally earlier that day, monastic officials confirmed Tuesday.
After news of the threat spread, chiefs at Daun Penh district’s Wat Botum decided to allow the monk, the Venerable Voeung Samnang, 28, to stay, but only on the condition that he does not attend another CNRP event.
Monks have become a regular presence at opposition rallies, and also turned out in ample amounts on Monday, when well over 10,000 people gathered peacefully at Freedom Park in the largest rally to be held since the contested national election vote.
Upon returning from the protest about 7 p.m. Monday, Voeung Samnang said that the Venerable Khim Sorn, chief of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect in Phnom Penh and the head monk at Wat Botum, ordered him to leave his lodgings in House 25 of the pagoda.
However, Khim Sorn appeared to change his mind after a radio station broadcast news of the eviction.
“My chief phoned me to come back after I have already left the house [Tuesday] morning,” said Voeung Samnang, who is an administration student at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University and Pannasastra University.
Voeung Samnang was told he could stay at the pagoda on the condition that he does not join any more political rallies, he said.
“I will still join if any demonstrations happen in the future because we need freedom in giving our opinion,” Voeung Samnang said, adding that if necessary, he would move out of the pagoda in order to keep attending rallies.
“Thus, we cannot remain patient when our right to live and our right to give our opinion is being shut down,” he said.
The CNRP issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the threat to Voeung Samnang, saying his eviction would mean he would not be able to study and would be without a place to stay.
Khim Sorn, the chief monk, denied that Voeung Samnang had ever been forced to leave the pagoda.
“We did not evict the Venerable Voeung Samnang, but he went by himself after I asked him why he joined the rally,” he said.
“I have previously advised all of the monks to stay in peace and that they should not join the demonstrations of any political party.”
Venerable Long Sopheap, the chief of House 25, a dwelling for some of the monks in the pagoda, said the problem had been dealt with.
“We wanted to evict him because he joined a rally, but now we solved it,” he said.
“We solved this problem this morning. I brought Samnang to meet with the chief of the pagoda [Khim Sorn] and he asked him to apologize and say he won’t go to rallies anymore.”
Asked why attending a rally would be cause to evict a monk, Long Sopheap was stuck for an answer.
“According to the Buddhist rules, it [going to a rally] is not illegal. But, I can’t say more.”
Nget Chanbo, chief of the Buddhist affairs department at the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said that while monks were allowed to vote, they were not permitted to join public demonstrations.
“I think that the monks joining demonstrations is contrary to the monks’ discipline because it can cause damage to public order,” he said.
Cambodia’s best-known activist monk, Luon Sovath, was in 2011 evicted from Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh after publicly showing support for people evicted from the area around Boeng Kak lake.
Thousands of people were evicted as the lake was filled with sand to make way for a high-end real estate development led by the company of CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin.
Pagodas around the country have been ordered to shun Luon Sovath, who continues to join protests and demonstrate against evictions.
Luon Sovath said the threat against Voeung Samnang had nothing to do with Buddhism’s instructions to monks, but showed that the CPP’s dominance of Cambodian institutions stretched to the country’s religious leadership.
“This is not the Buddhist rules. In the Buddhist rules, the monks have the freedom to speak, the freedom to demonstrate in peace,” Luon Sovath said.
“This rule is related to politics in Cambodia. All the monks in Cambodia are controlled by politics, especially CPP control.”
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