TWO MONKS CHARGED IN MURDER; THIRD STILL AT LARGE
Two monks from Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey pagoda have been charged with murder following the death last week of a fourth-year medical student who chastised them for drinking alcohol. Another suspect, who is not a monk, has also been charged, police confirmed, and a third monk accused in the murder remains on the run. Monks Van Socheat, 19, and Nhem Vuthy, 20, were charged this week, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Hing Bunchea. The pair’s alleged accomplice, Chem Pros, was also charged. “We charged them yesterday on the murder case, and now we will investigate more,” Hing Bunchea said. The victim, 24-year-old Veth Vireak, was beaten to death. It is alleged the monks were furious after he scolded them for getting drunk on 10 litres of palm wine. Kong Samorn, deputy police chief in Meanchey district, said the group will be held in Prey Sar prison while an investigation is carried out. The monks had been ordained for five years before last Friday’s attack. If they are convicted of the murder, the monks could be defrocked and jailed, officials have previously said.
LEADING Buddhist intellectuals and civil society groups have called on the government to address a recent outbreak of offences ranging from drunkenness to rape and a deadly beating all allegedly committed by monks.
They warned that if the behaviour of monks continues to deteriorate, it could seriously diminish the position of Buddhism within Cambodian society.
Miech Ponn, an adviser to the Mores and Customs Commission at the Buddhism Institute, said that in the past, cases of monks’ engaging in sexual relationships were exceptionally rare, and that he had never heard of monks drinking wine, let alone killing people.
“Even though these have been isolated cases, they have the potential to impact Buddhism in Cambodia as a whole,” he said. “I think either the Ministry of Cults and Religions or supreme patriarchs should take action in order not to have such acts – drinking wine and killing people – occur among the monks again.”
Miech Ponn also suggested that the cause of such incidents might be the modern technology to which monks are increasingly exposed. Earlier this month, an 18-year-old monk in Kampong Thom province was charged with beating and injuring a fellow monk who failed to answer a call from the perpetrator on his mobile phone.
Thun Saray, president of the rights group ADHOC, echoed Miech Ponn’s concerns, urged the country’s religious authorities to find ways to strengthen discipline among members of the Buddhist community because of their role in society.
“If monks act the same as other people, they will cease to be respected, and no one will believe in them anymore,” he said. “It is a big loss of honour to Buddhism that there were cases of monks killing people because Buddhism tells people not to kill anything that is alive.”
Min Khin, minister of cults and religions, said Thursday that he was too busy to speak.
Tep Vong, supreme patriarch of Cambodia, said he was aware a monk had been charged with killing a nun earlier this week in Banteay Meanchey province and welcomed the legal action.
“I do not have any particular advice on the issue because Buddhism already takes a clear position against killing animals and human beings,” he said, adding that anyone who committed a crime should be brought before the courts.
He also insisted that his adviser, Kiet Chan Thouch, chief monk of Wat Leu in Preah Sihanouk province, was not guilty of getting drunk and attacking fellow monks in his pagoda, as was recently alleged.
“I already investigated [Kiet Chan Thouch’s] case, and the accusations against him are untrue,” he said. The supreme patriarch is now pursuing legal action against Kiet Chan Thouch’s accusers, who he said had deliberately set out to damage the man’s reputation.
According to the government, Cambodia has more than 4,300 active pagodas and 60,000 monks. Ninety-five percent of the Kingdom’s population is Buddhist.