A recently announced decree prohibiting Buddhist monks from participating in peaceful
demonstrations has been blasted as unconstitutional, "un-Buddhist" and
a grave breach of human rights by leading activists, election monitors and a member
of the Constitutional Council.
The ban, announced June 24 by Supreme Patriarch Noun Nget and signed by Minister
of Cults and Religions Khun Haing, echoes prior restrictions handed down on monks
in years past but contradicts a long tradition of non-violent Buddhist gatherings
that precedes the French colonial era.
"In our Constitution peaceful protests are a citizen's right. And in the Constitution,
monks are citizens, so they have the same rights as other citizens-they cannot be
prohibited from demonstrations," said Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional
Council and son of former Prime Minister Son San. " When someone abuses the
Constitution they are guilty of a great crime-the National Assembly has to raise
this issue and solve it."
Noun Nget declined to comment on the ban on June 28, because he was traveling to
Kampong Thom to nominate the province's top monk. The 83-year-old Nget was disrobed
by the Khmer Rouge, but rejoined the monk hood in 1979 at age 57.
The Kingdom's top Buddhist leader, Great Supreme Patriarch
Tep Vong, said that, like other monks, he would support the ban.
"It is not difficult to understand, ask someone else. I might as well support
the announcement because I respect the law as adopted," Tep Vong told the Post.
"But you must stop being anti-religion from now on."
Miech Ponn, advisor for the Council for Khmer culture at the Buddhist Institute,
was confused by the ban.
"Peaceful marches have been done continuously in our country in times of trouble.
For example, Maha Ghosananda had organized non-violent marches for peace for many
times," Ponn said. "Our constitutional law offers freedom for expression
and peaceful, non-violent marches. I wonder why, if the law is already stated, the
implementers of the law try to curb everything?"
And Dr. Lao Mong Hay, senior human rights researcher at Asian Human Rights Comission,
referred to the life of Buddha as a precedent for positive peaceful protest. According
to Mong Hay, Buddha and his family went into voluntary exile after his subjects protested
his donation of a sacred elephant.
"Everybody who claims to be Buddhist should know this ban is 'un-Buddhist.'
But Cambodia's Buddhist clergy has always been under the armpit of the rulers, its
been this way since Buddhism came to Cambodia," Mong Hay said by phone from
Hong Kong. "Our Buddhist clergy has benefited one way or another from the present
regime. They're granted favors and expected to support the regime. The present government
isn't keen to see people staging demonstrations. This ban is unconstitutional as
well as a violation of human rights."
According to Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, the
decree may negatively impact the environment for next year's national election.
"I think even in the Dharma of Buddhism there is nothing that prohibits monks
from expressing ideas peacefully. And in contrast, the Dharma encourages monks to
express ideas peacefully," Panha said.
"The constitution as well as the government's treaties on human rights clearly
state the right to freedom of expression for Cambodian citizens. The Ministry of
Cults and Religion also has no right to release such a Prakas. If it does, it is
a direct threat to the upcoming election because it strongly needs the freedom of
CPP Central Committee Member and Secretary of State at the Ministry of Cults and
Religions, Chhorn Eam said it is the ministry, not the government that governs the
actions of the monastic order.
"It is not true that the CPP controls the leadership of the Buddhist clergy.
The Ministry of Cults and Religion manages all monks and pagodas throughout Cambodia,"
Eam, a CPP Central Committee member said.