Buddhist Patriarchs Ban Rallies, But Activist Monks March Forth

By Ben Sokhean, The Cambodia Daily, December 8, 2014

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- A nationwide human rights march hit another roadblock over the weekend when activists and monks were reportedly prevented from sleeping in pagodas across the country, while the country’s two Buddhist sects released a statement Friday forbidding monks from taking part in public demonstrations.

Six groups of more than 600 activists and monks began the five-day march to Phnom Penh from different parts of the country on Friday, and plan to convene in front of the National Assembly on Wednesday to mark Human Rights Day.

A joint statement released by the Mohanikaya and Thammayut Buddhist sects, dated Friday, states that monks are not permitted to take part in marches, protests, strikes or riots. The statement also calls on authorities to prevent monks from doing so.

“The two Buddhist sects…request authorities on all levels nationwide to help prevent all these wrong doings and to preserve the dignity of Buddhism,” says the statement, which was signed by Cults and Religions Minister Min Khin and patriarchs from both sects.

However, But Buntenh, president of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, which helped organize the march, said he was not concerned about the statement.

“We do not care about the warning,” But Buntenh said. “The authorities always say [our actions] are illegal, but the government is wrong.”

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said Sunday that police had instructed pagodas across the country to bar any marches from entering them.

“The authorities threatened each pagoda in each province to block their gates,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

Ben Rath, chief of police in Kompong Cham province, denied the accusation.

“We did not threaten each pagoda in our province to lock the gates to prevent the marchers from entering and staying,” he said.

Yin Ratanaksotheary, an activist monk who began the march with about 100 other people in Takeo province, said his group was turned away by several pagodas along National Road 2 Sunday.

“The monks and the activists stayed on the sidewalk and ate their lunch under the trees because all the pagodas in the province closed their gates,” he said.