Authorities stopped a Buddhist monk during his peace march across Cambodia, questioning him for several hours and accusing the 72-year-old of being affiliated with the opposition Candlelight Party, before letting him continue.
Venerable Soy Sat has been marching toward Banteay Meanchey province, near the Thai border, to urge the government to restore social ethics and resolve national issues.
Authorities in Pursat province’s Bakan district detained him for several hours on Tuesday and asked him about the purpose of the march. They also accused him of participating in an opposition party meeting organized by Candlelight Party Vice President Rong Chhun.
Earlier on Tuesday, Rong Chhun held a meeting with party officials in Pursat. Afterward, he went to meet the monk to offer him food, a common practice in Cambodia.
Soy Sat said he told officials that did not participate in Rong Chhun’s party meeting. He also said the march wasn’t tied to any political party.
“Authorities asked me to go back if I don't want any problem,” he said. “I said, ‘I won't go back. I will march until the national crisis is resolved.’”
After three hours of intense talk, the authorities allowed him and a few villagers to continue the march, he said.
The provincial governor, Khoy Rida, didn’t respond to a request for comment from Radio Free Asia on Tuesday. The spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religions, Seng Somony, said he wasn't aware of the incident but would look into it.
Expelled from pagoda
Last month, Soy Sat marched along with Rong Chhun and other demonstrators from Phnom Penh to Pursat. They had permission for the march from the Interior Ministry.
Several days later, he was expelled from his pagoda in Kampong Speu province by the pagoda’s chief, who accused him of incitement and of trying to destroy peace.
He was supposed to appear before the court March 6, but didn't appear because he was marching in Pursat. The court only brought up an old land case from 2021 because of the current march, he said.
The case raises suspicions, said Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, or Licadho.
"The court's action will lead to criticism that it is designed to persecute the monk," he said.
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 began his latest march by himself on March 1 in Phnom Penh. There are now about six people marching alongside him.
“I am participating because of Venerable's heart,” said Sim Mao, a villager who is marching with Soy Sat. “He is thinking for all of us so I must participate.”
The monk’s true-hearted wishes are to call attention to what’s wrong with the country, and his march shouldn’t be interrupted, said Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesman for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association.
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