The Venerable Loun Savath (centre), a prominent rights activist, was detained by police, monks and unidentified plain-clothed men yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Senior members of the monastic community yesterday detained Buddhist monk Loun Savath, an award-winning human rights activist, after he took photos of protesting Boeung Kak lake villagers outside Phnom Penh municipal court.
Monks, police and unidentified men in plain clothes violently forced Loun Savath into a Land Cruiser outside the courthouse and whisked him away from the scene as more than 60 protesters, flanked by about 100 police armed with guns, batons and shields, called for the release of 13 Boeung Kak women who were being questioned inside.
Venerable Loun Savath was driven to Wat Botum to meet Supreme Patriarch Nun Nget.
Police and officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Cults and Religion barricaded him inside, sealing off entries to the complex, barring entrance to all journalists and preventing even pagoda boys from entering without showing their ID cards.
He remained detained there as of press time last night.
According to students living in the pagoda, Loun Savath was put in monk house number 17 in the complex, which s where a number of Khmer Kampuchea Krom monks live.
At 1pm, Loun Savath was bought to a meeting with Supreme Patriarch Nun Nget and about 20 other senior chief monks including Khim Sorn, the Phnom Penh municipal director of monks.
Nun Nget, however, retired from this meeting about 2pm to nap in his room.
A Post reporter who gained entry to the complex approached the Supreme Patriarch, but he refused to answer questions.
About 7:30 pm, the meeting with the senior monks ended and Loun Savath made a brief appearance near the entrance.
“I am not defrocked,” he told reporters. “But they have asked me to stay at a pagoda in my homeland in Siem Reap.”
The “multimedia monk”, originally from Chi Kraeng district in Siem Reap, began his activist career supporting villagers in a long-running land dispute there.
Loun Savath declined to elaborate on details of the meeting.
When asked what prompted the meeting, and what conditions had been placed on him, he replied that the situation was “serious”.
Loun Savath fled the capital in March last year, fearing he would be arrested for his activism. He returned two months later to attend a Prey Lang villager rally.
There, he was also forced to flee the scene with the assistance of rights groups when it appeared local authorities were planning his arrest.
He recently attended the funeral of slain environmental activist Chut Wutty.
After briefly talking with reporters last night, Loun Savath returned to the pagoda for a one-on-one meeting with the Supreme Patriarch.
Chief monks who attended the meeting could not be reached for comment.
Phan Davy, director of Phnom Penh’s Cults and Religion office, declined to comment because he was “too busy”.
Officials from the Ministry of Cults and Religion could not be reached.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical officer at Licadho, said Loun Savath had the right to defend weaker people.
“Even though he is a monk, he still has the right to defend human rights, but in contrast he is arrested,” he said.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson condemned the treatment of Loun Savath.
“Defrocking a monk for standing up for the poor is a sign of Hun Sen’s desperation,” he said.