Three monks at the Sansam Kosal pagoda were beaten by the deputy chief monk as they left to participate in Saturday’s opposition rally, though the deputy maintained yesterday that the incident had more to do with truancy than politics. The incident came just days after the religion’s highest leaders urged monks to avoid joining the demonstration.
According to monks Hem Pheaktra, Sam Chorn, and Nget Visa, first deputy chief monk Yim Chamroeun confronted them as they were leaving the pagoda grounds at about 7:15 on Saturday morning – a time reserved for studies, Chamroeun said – and beat them on the head with his phone upon hearing they were headed to the demonstration.
“The reason I joined the mass demonstration is that I wanted to demand my vote [be counted], and for justice, because as a citizen I have the right to demand my vote [be counted] if I know my vote is lost,” Chorn said.
In an order handed down last week, the nation’s highest monks admonished clergy not to participate in Saturday’s rally, likening participation to murder, and noting that anyone “who kills or bothers someone is not a priest”.
Around 200 monks defied the request, cutting a visible presence at the demonstration.
Pheaktra – who still had visible bruises on his face and head yesterday – said that he had every right to join in.
“I have the right to vote, and I also have to the right to participate,” he said, noting that he and the others wouldn’t file a complaint as long as Chamroeun apologised, but that he was still “worried they will expel me from the pagoda”.
The Venerable Sok Yat, president of the Independent Monk Association, said that the three shouldn’t be expelled from the pagoda and called the beating a violation of the monks’ rights.
“Currently, monks are under a lot of pressure [from their leaders] that are not appropriate according to the rights of the monks as stipulated in the constitution,” he said.
Nonetheless, Yat urged against the monks filing an official complaint, saying that it would run counter to the Buddhist precept of forgiveness.
“The right thing to do is for the first deputy chief monk to say he is sorry and admit his mistake, and nothing more,” he said.
Chamroeun admitted yesterday to beating the three monks, but maintained that the beating was administered because they were skipping school, not because they wanted to participate in an opposition rally.
“I beat them as their guardian, like a teacher, and the students at that time behaved anarchically and wouldn’t listen to anyone,” he said. “They still wouldn’t listen, so I used my hand to knock them [on the head] three times, and after getting knocked they still went.”
Chamroeun said that there were no plans to expel the monks, as they had only broken a school rule, not a Buddhist rule, but said that an apology wasn’t likely.
“How can a father kneel down to say sorry? Think about it,” he said. “The young monks have the right [to go to the rally], and I do too, but please do not make this about politics.”