Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect, ordered chief monks across the country and authorities at all levels to prevent NGOs, particularly the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, from using pagodas to hold public meetings.
“I would like chief monks with relevant authorities to take measures to prevent NGOs such as Cambodian Center for Human Rights from using pagodas to hold public forums,” Tep Veng wrote in a letter dated Feb 3.
NGOs have used pagodas to disseminate their political views, said Tep Vong, who is a long-time supporter of the CPP.
“This event has caused tension, violence, irregularities among people [who] have other political tendencies…[they] use insulting words to each other all the time,” Tep Vong wrote.
Pa Nguon Teang, director of CCHR’s Voice of Democracy radio station, said on Wednesday that Tep Vong was wrong to prevent monks from allowing public forums inside their pagodas.
“I think this order is a violation of the Constitution because the Constitution allows citizens to have rights toward politics,” he said.
Pa Nguon Teang also said that Tep Vong’s order was biased toward Prime Minister Hun Sen as it reinforced the premier’s recent scathing criticism of CCHR holding public forums in pagodas.
Hun Sen lashed out earlier this month at an unnamed NGO for using Buddhist pagodas to host forums that he claimed were political and defamatory. Hun Sen also warned monks to stay away from politics.
Chan Soveth, spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, said that Tep Vong’s order was wrong because pagodas belong to the public.
“This is the violation of freedom of speech,” he said.
Tep Vong could not be contacted for comment on Wednesday.