The pro-CPP Pagoda Boys association has launched legal action against the organizers of a petition that last week described their organization as a politically backed gang of glue-sniffers in the pay of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Pagoda Boys President Seng Sovannara also claimed on Monday that the 230 students residing at six Buddhist temples in Phnom Penh who signed the petition were duped into believing their names were being used for other purposes.
Two students at the center of the row said on Monday they had gone into hiding for fear the Pagoda Boys association was trying to have them arrested.
“We are finding justice for our association. I have filed a lawsuit to the courts for defamation and document forgery,” Seng Sovannara said.
“The petition was really made by the boys at the city temples,” however, the students signed the document believing it was a statement exonerating them from any involvement in the Jan 29, anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh, Seng Sovannara said.
Seng Sovannara said he and his organization had identified and confronted two of the petition organizers, who he said were most likely organized by either Funcinpec or the Sam Rainsy Party.
The Pagoda Boys also held a press conference on Saturday to introduce reporters to some students who admitted they were fooled into signing the petition.
Numbering some 4,000 members, the Pagoda Boys, also known as the Pagoda Children’s Intelligentsia and Students Association, fashion themselves as a youth movement defending the Hun Sen government from critical elements in Cambodian society.
They regularly descend on protests and demonstrations by workers unions and student movements.
Violence has broken out at several such counter-demonstrations organized by the Pagoda Boys.
Lay Van Say, the organizer of the critical petition, said on Monday that he and fellow organizer, Ly Setha, were now on the run after the Pagoda Boys attempted to have them arrested.
A student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Lay Van Say said he is now in hiding and unable to return to Wat Ounalom, where he was resident.
“I’m lucky we could manage to run away. If we were arrested we would be charged like Ken Sara,” said Lay Van Say, referring to the Cambodian student blamed for involvement in the anti-Thai riots.
“They can charge us with everything,” he said.
Ly Setha, a student at Pannasastra University, said he too was on the run.
“I cannot return to the temple. I am so frightened. They are ready to catch me. If they do not attack me on the street they will put me in handcuff,” he said.
They both denied any fraudulent methods were used in obtaining the 230 names for their petition.
A student at Wat Lanka also claimed on Monday he was coerced, with threats of expulsion from the temples, into signing a new statement claiming he was hoodwinked into putting his name to the petition.
“I was forced to sign a new contract stating I was not involved with the other group,” said the student, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
Seng Sovannara confirmed he met with the two petition organizers on Sunday, but denied any strong-arm tactics had been employed by his members.
“We just had a small verbal dispute. We did not threaten them. If we wanted to catch them, they could not run away and they would not have a chance to talk to the press,” he said.