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Nomination for monk on the run

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Photo by Heng Chivoan / Phnom Penh Post

Luon Sovath speaks out.

Siem Reap’s activist month, Luon Sovath, who is presently laying low, is one of three human rights defenders nominated for the prestigious 2012 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

His nomination was announced on April 24 in Geneva by former Swiss President, and newly-appointed chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

The Martin Ennals Award is the main award of the international human rights movement.

A press release from the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders said, “In March 2009, Luon Sovath, a Buddhist monk from Siem Reap, Cambodia witnessed his family and fellow villagers being forcibly evicted from their homes. Forced evictions remove families from their homes, often with no compensation. Despite threats of violence, arrest and disrobing, the venerable Sovath, a non-violent Buddhist monk, uses videos, poems and songs to defend the right to housing, but his advocacy touches powerful economic interests. The threats against the venerable Sovath are very real.”

Luon Sovath tried to protect Chi Kreng villagers in Siem Reap as well as a group of residents facing eviction from the Boeung Kak area in Phnom Penh where the government forced them to relocate without suitable compensation.

As a fallout from his advocacy, Luon Sovath has been threatened and arrested, and also been banned from every pagoda in Siem Reap as well as Phnom Penh because the chief of pagodas decreed he had broken Buddhist law.

Luon Sovath is holed up mostly in Thailand,  and Sous Narin, an official from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association in Siem Reap said he can’t predict when the monk will return.

He said the monk fled to Thailand to avoid further arrest, adding, “The authorities said he cannot attend society activities or other disputes, and if he wishes to defend his community he should first resign from being  a monk.”

Sous Narin said the last time that he met Luon Sovath was in September 2011 in Siem Reap.

Luon Sovath has been nominated together with Iranian women lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is serving an 11-year sentence on charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the State’, ‘collusion and gathering with the aim of acting against national security’ and ‘membership in an illegal organization.’

The third nomination went to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, which documents human rights abuses in Bahrain.

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