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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ban on monk protests called 'un-Buddhist'

Ban on monk protests called 'un-Buddhist'

A recently announced decree prohibiting Buddhist monks from participating in peaceful

demonstrations has been blasted as unconstitutional, "un-Buddhist" and

a grave breach of human rights by leading activists, election monitors and a member

of the Constitutional Council.

The ban, announced June 24 by Supreme Patriarch Noun Nget and signed by Minister

of Cults and Religions Khun Haing, echoes prior restrictions handed down on monks

in years past but contradicts a long tradition of non-violent Buddhist gatherings

that precedes the French colonial era.

"In our Constitution peaceful protests are a citizen's right. And in the Constitution,

monks are citizens, so they have the same rights as other citizens-they cannot be

prohibited from demonstrations," said Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional

Council and son of former Prime Minister Son San. " When someone abuses the

Constitution they are guilty of a great crime-the National Assembly has to raise

this issue and solve it."

Noun Nget declined to comment on the ban on June 28, because he was traveling to

Kampong Thom to nominate the province's top monk. The 83-year-old Nget was disrobed

by the Khmer Rouge, but rejoined the monk hood in 1979 at age 57.

The Kingdom's top Buddhist leader, Great Supreme Patriarch

Tep Vong, said that, like other monks, he would support the ban.

"It is not difficult to understand, ask someone else. I might as well support

the announcement because I respect the law as adopted," Tep Vong told the Post.

"But you must stop being anti-religion from now on."

Miech Ponn, advisor for the Council for Khmer culture at the Buddhist Institute,

was confused by the ban.

"Peaceful marches have been done continuously in our country in times of trouble.

For example, Maha Ghosananda had organized non-violent marches for peace for many

times," Ponn said. "Our constitutional law offers freedom for expression

and peaceful, non-violent marches. I wonder why, if the law is already stated, the

implementers of the law try to curb everything?"

And Dr. Lao Mong Hay, senior human rights researcher at Asian Human Rights Comission,

referred to the life of Buddha as a precedent for positive peaceful protest. According

to Mong Hay, Buddha and his family went into voluntary exile after his subjects protested

his donation of a sacred elephant.

"Everybody who claims to be Buddhist should know this ban is 'un-Buddhist.'

But Cambodia's Buddhist clergy has always been under the armpit of the rulers, its

been this way since Buddhism came to Cambodia," Mong Hay said by phone from

Hong Kong. "Our Buddhist clergy has benefited one way or another from the present

regime. They're granted favors and expected to support the regime. The present government

isn't keen to see people staging demonstrations. This ban is unconstitutional as

well as a violation of human rights."

According to Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, the

decree may negatively impact the environment for next year's national election.

"I think even in the Dharma of Buddhism there is nothing that prohibits monks

from expressing ideas peacefully. And in contrast, the Dharma encourages monks to

express ideas peacefully," Panha said.

"The constitution as well as the government's treaties on human rights clearly

state the right to freedom of expression for Cambodian citizens. The Ministry of

Cults and Religion also has no right to release such a Prakas. If it does, it is

a direct threat to the upcoming election because it strongly needs the freedom of


CPP Central Committee Member and Secretary of State at the Ministry of Cults and

Religions, Chhorn Eam said it is the ministry, not the government that governs the

actions of the monastic order.

"It is not true that the CPP controls the leadership of the Buddhist clergy.

The Ministry of Cults and Religion manages all monks and pagodas throughout Cambodia,"

Eam, a CPP Central Committee member said.



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