Defrocked Khmer Krom Monk Jailed in Cambodia for ‘Obstructing’ COVID-19 Measures

A former Buddhist monk from Cambodia’s Khmer Krom ethnic minority group was jailed this week in Phnom Penh for allegedly violating measures aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the country, with one rights group calling the action taken against him “harassment.”

Pang Soda, formerly the abbot of a temple in Kompong Cham province, was arrested and sent to Prey Sar Prison on Tuesday after being accused of breaking contact with authorities who had ordered him to remain in touch, a member of a Khmer Krom rights group said next day.

“They told him not to turn off his mobile phone so that they could contact him,” Bun Mony—Secretary of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association—told RFA on Wednesday. “But he turned off his phone and failed to honor his pledge with the authorities.”

“So yesterday, he was questioned by police and sent to Prey Sar Prison,” he said.

Bun Mony said his group then contacted Pang Soda’s relatives to offer legal help but were told they had asked instead for help from an unnamed government official.

“We are fully prepared to assist him by providing a Khmer Krom lawyer, so we regret that his family gave us this answer,” Bun Mony said.

Requests for comment from Pang Soda’s younger brother received no response, but Khmer Krom lawyer Seun Chumchuon told RFA that he is ready to provide legal assistance in the case, though as of Wednesday he had received no request from family members for help.

Prison Department spokesperson Nuth Savana could not be reached for comment Wednesday, while San Sokseyha—spokesperson for the Phnom Penh Police Commissariat—denied any knowledge of Pang Soda’s arrest.

Arrested without warrant

Formerly abbot of the Wat Vongkut Borey Serey Phnom Penh Thmey pagoda in Kompong Cham, Pang Soda was arrested without a warrant on Sept. 2, stripped of his monastic status by local Buddhist authorities, and sent to Phnom Penh for questioning on charges of violating government-mandated COVID-19 prevention measures, Khmer Krom sources said.

Police at the same time confiscated the cell phone of other monks who had witnessed the arrest, sources said, adding that Pang Soda was later released after promising to remain in constant contact with authorities.

Speaking to RFA, Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation Branch in Cambodia head Taing Sarak said his group is now monitoring the court action against Pang Soda—who had been active in social work providing food, money, and other kinds of support to vulnerable people—and will appeal if the courts fail to render justice in the case.

The Khmer Krom, ethnic Khmer who live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia, face widespread discrimination in Vietnam and suspicion in Cambodia, where they are often perceived not as Cambodians but as Vietnamese.

Khmer Krom who leave Vietnam for Cambodia remain one of the country’s “most disenfranchised groups,” according to the international rights group Human Rights Watch.

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