Religious Discrimination ‘Limited,’ Says Report

By Emily Lodish “Limited reports” of religious discrimination in Cambodia over the last year did not taint the otherwise favorable report card on religious tolerance Cambodia received from the US State Department on Friday.

The Cambo­dian government “generally res­pected” the constitutionally guaranteed right to religious freedom, and the 93-percent Theravada Buddhist majority got along harmoniously with the nearly 5-percent Muslim minority and the “small, but growing” Christian community, according to the State Department’s In­ternational Reli­gious Freedom Report 2007.

The report, however, made mention of a Buddhist mob burning down an unfinished Christian church in Kandal province in April 2006 as well as the June 2007 restatement of a ban on door-to-door proselytizing by Christians.

According to the report, government officials said they appreciate the “much needed assistance in education, rural development, and training,” given by religious groups but “also expressed some concern that foreign groups used the guise of religion to become involved in illegal or political affairs.”

Chhorn Eam, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Reli­gions, said Sunday that the government facilitates religious freedom in Cambodia, but that some Chris­tian groups overstep their bounds by enticing people to convert with offers of goods. “People cannot distribute food, donations or teach English for free, and then demand that people convert to their faith,” he said.

Lork Choeu, a preacher for the non-denominational Church of Christ who goes by the name James, said that his congregation offers food after services once a month and has taught free English classes in the past. He said such services are only offered in response to the needs of the people, and that they have never forced anyone to convert. “Everyone has freedom,” he said.

Robert Winegar, president of Phnom Penh’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints mission—known internationally for their proselytizing—said that they have always acted in accordance with Cambodian policies and have not had to make any changes since the June directive. He characterized the relationship between the roughly 7,000 Mormons in Cambo­dia and the Buddhist majority as “mutually respectful.”

Jeff Daigle, US Embassy spokes­man, said Sunday that the recent defrocking of Tim Sakhorn, a Khmer Krom monk currently im­prisoned in Vietnam who was accused of starting his own religious movement in Takeo pro­vince, occurred after the year-long period covered by the 2007 report. “The US has expressed concern about Tim Sakhorn, and we fully expect that this case will be treated in the 2008 report,” he wrote by e-mail.

Sin Yoeun, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Budd­hist Monk Association, said that he is concerned about Tim Sakhorn’s wellbeing in Vietnam, and that Khmer Krom monks experience discrimination in some parts of Cambodia. “When there is no good leader [in the country], they find it hard to live,” he said.


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