A Christian leader in Ratanakkiri’s Bakeo district has accused a district Ministry of Cults and Religion official of making members of his congregation thumbprint a contract forbidding them to proselytise or associate with any political parties before the election.
Community leader Rochom Nath, 32, said yesterday that the chief of the district cults and religion office, Moeng Ieng, convened more than 20 members of his 240-strong Christian enclave in Seung commune’s Yasom village on Wednesday to endorse the letter.
“The letter told us not to promote the Christian religion, and said we’re not allowed to have a connection with political parties, because [Ieng] is a member of the [Cambodian People’s Party],” Nath said, adding that Ieng had threatened to prevent Christians from gathering at the church where they have worshipped for more than four years if they didn’t thumbprint the document.
In the lead-up to the elections, he said, both CPP and Cambodia National Rescue Party campaigners had swung by to try to sway the flock.
“I have promoted this religion in Ratanakkiri province since 2007, and this is the first time that I was coerced to stop, so I was afraid of being suspended, and gave my thumbprint like the others did,” he added.
Ieng, however, maintained that the letter did “not ban them from promoting whatsoever”. It was simply an annually required collection of biographical information about church leaders and dissemination of directives from the Ministry of Cults and Religion, he said.
But the letter did urge Christians to heed their own teachings and not involve themselves with politics, he added.
According to Ieng, the congregation never asked permission to build its gathering place.
Nath, on the other hand, maintained that he had all the requisite ministry documents.
Yem Yodavan, director of the Ministry of Cult and Religion’s religious resolutions department, said that under the law, people “have right to follow any religion they like, and the religion needs to inform and ask permission before [building] or promoting itself.”