Tim Teang, the father of Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, responded on Friday to the news that his son was facing a trial in Vietnam with a plea for help.
Tim Sakhorn, who was chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, went missing on June 30—the same day he was defrocked for allegedly damaging relations with Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh announced Thursday that Tim Sakhorn was being detained in Vietnam and will be tried for political crimes resulting from assisting the US-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation.
“I suggest to the Cambodian government and international and national NGOs to thoroughly and deeply consider this case in order to provide my son justice,” 80-year-old Tim Teang said.
He added that his son couldn’t possibly be guilty of the crimes he has been accused of.
“My son moved to live with me when he was 11 years old and then he entered the monkhood,” Tim Teang said. “How could he be involved with crimes or any anti-Vietnamese activities. My son has spent all his childhood and adulthood learning Buddhist principles.”
Thach Setha, executive director of the local Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, echoed Tim Teang’s pleas for assistance and warned of possible demonstrations should the government ignore those pleas.
“The government has an obligation to help [Tim Sakhorn get] back [to Cambodia],” Thach Setha said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he was out of Phnom Penh and directed all questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary of State Nhim Chantara directed all questions to Secretary of State Ouch Borith who said he was too busy to speak with a reporter.
Questions have been raised concerning exactly how Tim Sakhorn ended up back in Vietnam.
Government officials have said that Tim Sakhorn requested to go to Vietnam, but rights groups have claimed he may have been forcibly deported.
“He is Khmer,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said of Tim Sakhorn. “We ask the question: ‘Why would he want to go back to Vietnam?’”
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights released a statement Friday that said conversations they had with locals in the vicinity of Phnom Den pagoda corroborated earlier accounts stating that Tim Sakhorn was forced into a car shortly after his defrocking.
“It is clear that Tim Sakhorn was forcibly deported to Vietnam,” the statement reads.
Inge Sturkenboom, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that Khmer Krom individuals can not be considered refugees or asylum seekers in Cambodia because the government had told the UN that Khmer Krom are considered to be Cambodian citizens.
Regardless of his citizenship, if Tim Sakhorn was involuntarily deported, it would have been illegal, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
“Any nationality, before being deported must go before the Cambodian court system, unless they request to be deported,” he said.