A video circulating widely in Cambodia on Facebook this week shows a senior monk in a Buddhist temple beating three young monks with sticks, prompting an investigation by authorities and calls from a local rights group for justice for the victims of the assault.
Each monk was struck 50 times in the March 13 incident at the Reach Bo Pagoda in Siem Reap city as punishment for what Pin Sem, the chief monk who administered the beatings, called infractions of monastic discipline.
“This was not a violent act, but only a form of discipline intended to encourage our students to abandon bad deeds,” Pin Sem told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday.
He added that he told investigating authorities who visited the pagoda at the weekend and confiscated his sticks that he would only use “nonviolent” methods of correction in the future.
Also speaking to RFA, But Buntenh—the founder of Cambodia’s Independent Monk Network for Social Justice—said that Pin Sem had done nothing wrong in beating the young monks, and that monastic rules allow senior monks to enforce order by beating younger monks with sticks or forcing them to miss their breakfast.
Imposing terms of community service is also allowed to discourage misbehavior, he said.
The use of violence in any setting is against the law, though, Chan Chamroeun—Siem Reap provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc—told RFA, calling on Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Religion to seek justice for the beaten monks.
“A decision is up to the authorities, but if those beatings inflicted injuries, a prosecutor can bring charges against [the chief monk],” Chan Chamroeun said.
Attempts to reach Ministry of Cults and Religions spokesperson Seng Somony for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Buddhist monks in Cambodia mainly follow the Theravada, or Southern, branch of the religion, and young boys often enter Buddhist monasteries as novices for short periods of time without taking lifelong vows.
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