A politically active Cambodian monk was briefly dismissed from his place of religious study after participating in an opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) rally over disputed national elections, according to the CNRP.
Khem Sorn, the chief monk at Bothum Vortheay pagoda in the capital Phnom Penh, ordered Voeung Samnang to leave the premises for taking part in the 20,000-strong rally on Monday evening, the CNRP said in a statement.
He was permitted to return to the pagoda on Tuesday after agreeing to stay out of politics and after vehement protests by the main opposition party and several nongovernmental organizations.
“The CNRP regards the expulsion as a form of abuse against law and religion, and an abuse of the right to participate in politics, which is guaranteed by the constitution,” the CNRP said.
At Monday’s rally, the CNRP demanded that the government set up an independent probe on widespread irregularities in Cambodia’s July 28 national elections or face a larger demonstration.
The National Election Committee (NEC), which oversees Cambodia’s polls, recently announced preliminary results awarding a victory to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People Party (CPP) despite complaints of irregularities, including one million voters delisted from the electoral rolls.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy at the rally accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP after its preliminary findings supported the ruling party’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55. The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats in the National Assembly.
Voeung Samnang confirmed that he had been removed from the pagoda but was later allowed to return.
“Everything has been resolved and the problem in the pagoda has now been dealt with,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The monk refused to comment on his own security or discuss whether he had been forced to sign a contract that he would remain politically inactive.
But prominent activist monk Loun Savath told RFA that Voeung Samnang had been permitted to return to Bothum Vortheay pagoda only after signing contracts that said he would never again involve himself in politics.
Loun Savath told RFA that Voeung Samnang had already been “blacklisted” for being an opposition party supporter before taking part in the rally.
“He told me that as a monk he will continue to participate in social activism,” Loun Savath said.
“He will continue to face problems because he refuses to stop.”
On Tuesday, the CNRP also issued a statement clarifying its position on the state of the elections, democracy, and human rights in Cambodia and saying its stance was in line with United Nations values.
The statement follows the release of a DVD by Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior on Monday which officials said was aimed at documenting for foreign diplomats and nongovernmental organizations an alleged move by Sam Rainsy to overthrow the government by calling for mass protests.
“The CNRP supports the right of the Cambodian people to take part in [the] government of their country via genuine elections,” the opposition statement said.
“It fully endorses the United Nations’ General Assembly Resolution that ‘democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,’ and that democracy requires ‘developing, nurturing and maintaining an electoral system that provides for the free and fair expression of the people’s will.’”
The CNRP also expressed its support for the right of Cambodians to exercise freedom of assembly and association and called on the international community to ensure that Hun Sen’s government “fulfills its positive obligations to facilitate” that right.
On Monday the Ministry of the Interior had said that the government would protect the country if any mass demonstration turns into riots. Hun Sen has deployed troops, tanks, and armored vehicles in the capital to bolster security, which the opposition said was a move to intimidate the people.
Tuesday’s statement also said that the CNRP “opposes violence, racism, xenophobia and discrimination” and “undertakes to address issues related to the presence of foreigners in Cambodia via measures furthering the aims of” the country’s adherence to international obligations and standards.
Sam Rainsy has been critical of neighboring Vietnam’s influence on Cambodian politics, which he had claimed remained strong after Hanoi’s invasion of Phnom Penh in 1979 to put an end to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
The Vietnamese communists installed a new Cambodian government that year, and in January 14, 1985, Hun Sen was made prime minister.
Sam Rainsy was convicted and ordered jailed in 2009 for the removal of a temporary post demarcating Cambodia’s border with Vietnam.
Also on Tuesday, a court in Kampong Chhnang province issued a summons for eight CNRP officials on charges of disseminating “disinformation” related to the ongoing election dispute.
The CNRP dismissed the summons as a “politically motivated act” meant to “intimidate” the opposition.
The eight CNRP officials said that they will appear before the court for questioning, although they said they were unaware of the crimes they had allegedly committed.
Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, called the summons “suspicious” because it was issued without a date or case file number.
“The case must be involved with politics, because they had received threats before being served with the summons,” he said.
Kampong Chhnang deputy prosecutor Kem Sunraksmey could not be reached for comment.
In a separate incident of alleged intimidation, CNRP activist Morn Sokoeun told RFA on Tuesday that she had received death threats from the CPP chief of Kbal Chhroy village in Kandal province.
She allegedly received the threats after informing visiting Sam Rainsy and CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha that the village chief had forced her family to vote for the ruling party in last month’s election.
The village chief has denied the charges, saying they were “exaggerated.”
Morn Sokoeun has filed complaints with local authorities.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.