About 50 monks gathered in front of the Battambang Provincial Court yesterday to demand the release of fellow monk Horn Sophanny, claiming the monk was falsely accused of illegal possession of a weapon and arrested on Wednesday due to his political activism.
Sophanny, 24, was arrested after an image of him posing with a gun in his robes was posted to Facebook, though But Buntenh, a dissident monk who heads the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, said the gun was a fake and Sophanny committed no crime.
“His mistake was playing with a plastic gun, and it is inappropriate to punish him by defrocking and detaining him like this,” he said. “The monk is young and lacking in knowledge and deserves the chance to correct his attitude in accordance with Buddhism’s principles.”
In April, Sophanny posted an image of himself posing with the gun. It was accompanied by text criticising the government and a statement that appeared to claim the gun was real and intended to be used in case recent government warnings of a civil war turn out true.
“Buy a gun for protection, just in case Sun Ou Sen declares war during the 2018 election,” he wrote, in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has repeatedly threatened to “eliminate” his opponents and warned civil war will break out if he loses power.
Battambang Provincial Court spokesman Seng Phanit confirmed that Sophanny was yesterday sent to prison to await a trial.
“The former monk was charged with two different cases – possessing a weapon illegally . . . and incitement to commit a crime,” Phanit said.
However, Buntenh said he believed the arrest was caused by Sophanny’s activism and work monitoring the June 4 commune elections. Another prominent activist monk, Luon Sovath, also said he believed the arrest was meant to scare monks away from politics.
“They arrest one monk so that they don’t have to arrest thousands,” Sovath said, adding he thought it was clear the gun in the image was a fake and that Sophanny should have been punished only in his pagoda.
Sovath said the news of the arrest spread fast and could backfire for those trying to silence monks as election nears. “This is not justice,” he said. “The monks that stand up for social justice must vote in 2018.”