Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said July 4 that he ordered the state-run TVK channel to air a news report on the alleged lover of a Khmer Krom monk who rights workers say has been abducted.
The Interior Ministry and Buddhist officials said July 2 that Tim Sakhorn, chief of Phnom Den pagoda in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, had been defrocked June 30 for damaging Cambodian-Vietnamese relations and had willingly returned to Vietnam.
However, local rights group Adhoc on July 3 accused Cambodian authorities of having forcibly deported Tim Sakhorn to Vietnam. Officials have denied the accusation.
“I ordered the broadcast because people are blaming the government for defrocking the monk,” Khieu Kanharith said of the 15-minute program that aired July 3 and July 4.
The TVK segment shows a woman whom a voiceover describes as Tim Sakhorn’s lover, though the woman is not named and is not heard to speak.
In interviews, people identified as local villagers by the report say they believe Tim Sakhorn had an affair.
Khieu Kanharith said the broadcast was intended to clear the government’s name, adding that he doubted politics had played a role in the defrocking. He added that he too was unaware of the missing monk’s whereabouts.
TVK Director-General Kem Gunawadh was traveling July 4 and could not be reached for comment.
In a statement July 4, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 rights NGOs, denounced what it called Tim Sakhorn’s abduction.
“[Tim Sakhorn] was forced to defrock [himself] and immediately after the defrocking he was taken away by an armed group in a car and then disappeared,” CHRAC said in the statement.
“The Committee urges all authorities and the Ministry of Cults and Religions to intervene.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak on July 4 reiterated official denials that Tim Sakhorn had been forced out of Cambodia.
“I am not interested in the guy, because he was defrocked and he has gone,” Khieu Sopheak said.
In a June 16 statement, which was also signed by Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Non Nget, Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong accused Tim Sakhorn of undermining diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Vietnam by trying to establish a religious movement based out of his Phnom Den commune pagoda.
“Tim Sakhorn has breached the Buddhist discipline and caused a split in national and international unity, especially between the two countries of Cambodia and Vietnam,” Tep Vong wrote in the statement
In a statement July 4, legal analyst Lao Mong Hay, senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, said Non Nget had violated the Buddhist monastic code by defrocking Tim Sakhorn without evidence.
“The defrocking of [Tim Sakhorn] is very arbitrary and very much un-Buddhist,” Lao Mong Hay wrote.
Non Nget said July 4 that he had received convincing information about Tim Sakhorn’s alleged romance from other monks in Takeo.
This, and Tim Sakhorn’s political activities were the cause of the defrocking, he added.
Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community Executive Director Thach Setha described the TVK broadcast as a comedy.
“It was just theater. It is very funny,” he said.