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February 21, 2024
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Buddhist monk ousted for joining march calling for restoration of social ethics

A Buddhist monk who joined a peaceful march organized by an opposition party official that called on the Cambodian government to restore social ethics was ousted by the head monk of his temple for disrupting the public peace. 

Venerable Soy Sat, 72, was expelled from the Phnom Plouch Pagoda in Kampong Speu province on Feb. 9 by pagoda chief Oum Harm, who warned him that he would be defrocked if he refused to leave.

“The chief monk expelled me because he accused me of inciting to destroy peace,” said Soy Sat.

In early February, the monk marched along with Rong Chhun, the new vice president of the opposition Candlelight Party, and other demonstrators from the capital of Phnom Penh to Pursat province in the western part of the county. They had permission for the march from the Interior Ministry. 

The move comes five months ahead of an election showdown between the opposition Candlelight Party and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or the CCP. The prime minister has targeted opposition leaders, arresting and detaining them on what critics say are politically motivated charges in an apparent attempt to remain in power.

Buddhist monks, who occupy their own social class in Cambodia and are given a great deal of respect by the public, frequently participate in demonstrations, but ousting them from a temple is unusual.

Soy Sat denied that he intended to disrupt the public peace and said he would continue to participate in social advocacy.

The monk said he is currently living in an undisclosed location for security reasons, but he is running short on food and needs a permanent place to live. He asked monks at four other temples if they would take him in, but they all refused. 

“I urge other chief monks to allow me to stay because I didn’t commit any crime,” he said.

RFA could not reach Oum Harm for comment Wednesday. Cambodia’s Cults and Religion Minister Seng Somony refused to comment on the case but said he would investigate it.  

Support for the ruling party has fallen in the past decade amid chronic corruption within the party and the government, which opponents say has led to human rights violations, deteriorating social ethics and a culture of impunity.

Rong Chhun, a labor leader, said he organized the protest before the party appointed him to his current role, so that the protest had nothing to do with politics. 

Rong Chhun said he was displeased to learn about Soy Sat’s ousting, adding that the head monk should not have taken such a measure and that it now serves as a precedent and a threat for other clergy members who participate in peaceful protests

“Monks are symbols of the nation who preach to the people,” he said, “but now they are facing problems.”

Translated by Samean Yun for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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