Monks Call On Government to End Harassment

Two representatives of a group of Buddhist monks on  Tuesday held a press conference where they accused the government of using highly placed monks to “mentally torture” members of the monkhood who support the opposition CNRP, threatening to hold protests should the alleged intimidation continue.

Speaking at Neakavon pagoda in Phnom Penh, Venerable Bun Buntinh, 34, who heads a group called the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice (IMNSJ), pointed to a series of instances following July’s national election when monks were ostracized from their pagodas by chief monks after they were found to have participated in opposition demonstrations.

“If the government is trying to [mentally] torture the monks more and more…the Buddhist monks will stand and gather the people, mobilize the people, the whole country,” Bun Buntinh said at a press conference.

Bun Buntinh said he was holding the press conference to publicly call for an end to the harassment.

According to Bun Buntinh, such harassment included the case of a monk from Kompong Speu province who had just returned from a CNRP rally in Phnom Penh in mid-September and had to flee his pagoda after a shot was fired near his room in the religious compound. Monks in Phnom Penh and Kompong Chhnang province were also chastised—some expelled—by sen­ior monks upon returning to their pagodas from CNRP rallies in the capital, he said.

Bun Buntinh also said that police and military police had been deployed to Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum pagoda twice in the past week on what he called “fishing missions” to intimidate monks who support the CNRP.

“They came [to Wat Botum] on ‘fishing missions’ late on the 9 and 14 [of October],” he said.

“The officers say they are testing out new ‘administrative systems’ but I think they send the police here to scare my group and then when the group reacts they will impose violence and arrest my group,” he said.

“The government is walking on the wrong track now, too far from the democracy track…. I request that the government stop using these scare tactics to scare the Buddhist monks.”

Buddhist monks have in recent months slowly crept to the forefront of the political scene in the wake of the widely disputed July election.

What was a trickle of anxious monks at pre-election rallies in July turned into streams of impassioned monks delivering petitions to the Royal Palace by September, becoming the most visible signs of change in the country’s political atmosphere.

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito denied Tuesday that his officers had intimidated monks, and he also warned Bun Buntinh and his group to stay within the law.

“It is not true to claim that police and military police pressure the monks. We just implemented the law,” Brigadier General Tito said.

“It is his right to protest but they need to respect the law and follow authorities’ instructions,” he said.

Venerable Khim Sorn, chief of monks in Phnom Penh for the Mohanikaya sect, said that the Buddhist leadership had ruled that monks are forbidden to participate in public rallies.

“It is fully freedom enough that monks were allowed to vote,” Khim Sorn said.

“Sons and daughters have to respect their parents and be grateful. Sons and daughters should not blame their parents for the poor situation in the family,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP had “saved the country” and given the people “second lives.”

Bun Buntinh acknowledged that monks are supposed to refrain from publicly showing their political affiliation, but he argued that senior monks are highly politicized in favor of the ruling CPP.

“The patriarch monk [Ven­erable Tep Vong] issued the decision to ask Cambodian monks not to participate in demonstrations but he himself is a member of the CPP,” Bun Buntinh said.

“This is a great contradiction.”

Tep Vong, great supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya, was an elected representative for the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, the precursor to the CPP, in 1981 and vice president of the then-National Assembly.

Bun Buntinh said that while the Buddhist leadership is tied to the CPP, the majority of ordinary monks support the opposition.

“Ninety percent of monks are looking for justice and, sorry to say, 90 percent of monks love the opposition party. We are not working for the opposition party but we are working for justice, freedom and peace,” he said after the press conference.

“If you look at 1993 to 2013, there are big differences. The people are very strong in politics now and if the government abuses monks, the people will stand behind the monks.”

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