Vietnamese police arrest 4 more Khmer Krom monks in pagoda dispute

Thursday’s raid comes 2 days after authorities detained the pagoda’s abbot.
By RFA Vietnamese
2024.03.29
Vietnamese police arrest 4 more Khmer Krom monks in pagoda dispute Vietnamese police arrested four Buddhist monks, shown clockwise from top left: Duong Khai, Thach Qui Lay, Kim Sa Ruong and Thach Chop.
(Soc Trang province police via Facebook)

Vietnamese police have arrested four more Buddhist monks from the Khmer Krom indigenous group in an ongoing clash over a pagoda in the country’s south.

Authorities in Vinh Long province also arrested an activist during a raid on Thursday at Dai Tho Pagoda, known as the Tro Nom Sek pagoda in Khmer, police said in a statement posted on Facebook. 

The nearly 1.3-million strong Khmer Krom indigenous community live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia. They face discrimination in Vietnam and suspicion in Cambodia, where they are often perceived not as Cambodians but as Vietnamese. 

Thursday’s raid comes two days after Vietnamese police arrested the head of the pagoda, Thach Chanh Da Ra, and two other followers. 

The dispute with local authorities stems from an incident last November when Thach Chanh Da Ra and others wouldn’t allow a task force from the Tam Binh District People’s Committee to enter the pagoda. 

Thach Chanh Da Ra is accused of filming their visit to “defame local authorities and divide national unity.” He was dismissed from the government-recognized Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in December.

ENG_VTN_MonksDefrocked_03282024.2.jpg
Vietnamese police arrested activist Thach Nha. (Soc Trang province police via Facebook)

On Tuesday, Thach Chanh Da Ra and follower Kim Khiem were accused of posting slandering and insulting videos on social media and charged with “abusing the rights to democratic freedom,” in violation of Article 331, a law that rights groups have said is vaguely written and often used to stifle dissent.

Police also arrested Thach Ve Sanal, another member of the pagoda, on charges of “illegally arresting, holding, or detaining people,” for his alleged role in the November incident.

Cell phones seized

The five men arrested on Thursday were also being detained on suspicion of “abusing the rights to democratic freedom” under Article 331, police said.

A monk who witnessed the arrests told Radio Free Asia that about 10 police officers entered the pagoda, defrocked the four monks and arrested them and the one activist. 

By Buddhist law, monks can only be defrocked by senior monks if they breach Buddhist law – not by police.

When other monks tried to prevent the arrests, the officers responded with violence and confiscated everyone’s cell phones, the witness said.

“The persecution is brutal,” he said. “It is against our tradition and it is inhuman.”  

The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation condemned Thursday’s arrests, saying in a statement that “the actions of the Vietnamese authorities against these revered spiritual leaders and their supporters are a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of religion, expression and association.”

Translated by Anna Vu and Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

RFA Khmer contributed to this report.

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