MORE than 150 monks, students and laymen returned yesterday to a pagoda in Daun Penh district that was closed for three weeks after police discovered a monk there had recorded hundreds of videos of naked women as they bathed.
Neth Kai was arrested on June 26 after being accused of using a mobile phone to record the videos at Srah Chak pagoda. He was promptly defrocked, and Phnom Penh Municipal Court has since charged him with producing pornography. If convicted, he faces a sentence of a month to a year in jail and a fine of between US$48 and $480.
Following the arrest, the pagoda was vacated to allow officials to investigate the case.
Vong Pheareak, a monk at the pagoda, said 54 monks, 108 students and 13 laymen returned to the pagoda yesterday. “We do not allow any person who does not study to live at the pagoda,” he said.
In response to the arrest, the Ministry of Cults and Religions on July 2 issued a set of new “Buddhist ethical rules” intended to prevent future scandals. The document outlining the rules, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, urged monks to use modern technology “in a suitable way”.
“The use of modern technology like telephones and the internet must be suitable with the state of being a Buddhist priest, by avoiding debauchery like copying, taking or watching porn movies,” reads the document, which is signed by Minister of Cults and Religions Min Khin.
The document also states that monks soliciting alms must be “courteous” and avoid places such as markets and brothels. It goes on to warn that monks caught in breach of the rules will be punished “according to Buddhist ethical rules” following a thorough investigation.
The arrest and defrocking of Neth Kai also prompted the ministry to convene an emergency meeting last week. Min Khin said at the meeting that the scandal, in concert with other crimes reportedly committed by monks, had caused an “impact on our religion”.
Also yesterday, Chhoeng Bunchhea, a high-ranking monk of the Mahanikaya Order of Cambodia and chief of cabinet at the Supreme Patriarch, was appointed chief abbot at the pagoda. His predecessor, Meas Kung, was forced to resign in the wake of the scandal.
Chhoeng Bunchhea said he intended to strictly enforce the rules of the pagoda, including those that require monks to study twice per day and “listen to the word of the Buddha”.