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Members of the Independent Monk Network say they were intimidated by police at a Phnom Penh press conference
Members of the Independent Monk Network say they were intimidated by police at a Phnom Penh press conference. HONG MENEA

Monks feeling policed

During a small press conference yesterday, the founder of the Independent Monk Network said about 30 police officers came to Wat Botum two nights in one week, asking to search the premises for “bad men” who may be hiding there.

The visits occurred on the nights of October 9 and 14, But Buntenh, the monk network’s founder, said. On both occasions, uniformed and plainclothes officers came to the pagoda after 8pm, and left without searching the site.

“They just said to the monks, ‘We want to check [the pagoda],’ but they did not check,” said Bnutenh, who called the visits another attempt by the authorities to intimidate increasingly politically vocal monks. “I worry much about the monks’ security now.”

But when asked by the Post yesterday, Chuon Chith, Chamkarmon commune’s police chief, said police did not enter Wat Botum on either of the nights Buntenh claims. However, he added that military police forces are present 24 hours a day in front of the pagoda in order to provide safety and security for Phnom Penh residents.

Eang Vuthy, director of Equitable Cambodia, said yesterday that he had not heard allegations of police asking to search Wat Botum, but if the incidents occurred, it could be part of a government effort to stifle opposition among monks.

“[It could] be their reason, to really intimidate some monks who get involved with social issues,” Vuthy said.

Butenh founded the Independent Monk Network at the end of August with the goal of empowering monks to stand for their beliefs, he said. About 3,000 monks across Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Siem Reap and Battambang are now registered members of the network.

Shows of force by authorities have become a common method of pressuring monks to keep a lid on political dissent in their ranks, according to Butenh.

“I’m not living in peace and harmony,” Buntenh lamented at the press conference. “I’m living in fear.”

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