Cambodia urged to clear path for return of Khmer Krom activist Tim Sakhorn
The Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks’ Association and US-based Human Rights Watch have called on the Vietnamese authorities to lift any restrictions on the liberty of a monk who disappeared after being released from prison in Vietnam late last month.
Tim Sakhorn, 40, a member of the Khmer Krom minority that lives in southern Vietnam and Cambodia, was released from prison on June 28 after serving nearly nine months of a year-long sentence for “undermining national unity.”
Sakhorn had allegedly distributed bulletins about Khmer Krom history and politics and sheltered monks fleeing from Vietnam.
He was sentenced by a criminal court in An Giang province on November 8 last year, more than four months after being arrested and defrocked by the authorities in Cambodia, where he had been a monk at a Takeo province monastery for 17 years, and sent to Vietnam.
Following his release from prison, Sakhorn was taken by Vietnamese officials to his home village in An Giang province, where residents said he was presented with a plot of land and a big house in what was seen as an attempt to persuade him to remain in Vietnam. But after only a few hours at the village, residents said he was taken away and has not been seen since.
I don’t believe any news from Vietnam saying that Tim
Sakhorn has been released; I think it was a trick...
“I don’t believe any news from Vietnam saying that Tim Sakhorn has been released; I think it was a trick by the Vietnamese authorities,” the head of the Phnom Penh-based Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks’ Association, the Venerable Yoeun Sin, told the Post on July 9.
“It makes no sense that the Vietnamese authorities released a prisoner and then took him on a tour of Hanoi,” said Youen Sin, referring to reports that Sakhorn had been seen being escorted around the Vietnamese capital by officials.
In a statement released from its New York headquarters on July 3, Human Rights Watch said Sakhorn should be free to travel without restrictions “but it is not clear that he is able to do so.”
“While his release from prison is welcome ... Tim Sakhorn should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Brad Adams, the Asia director of HRW, said in the statement, which called on the Vietnamese government to “fully restore” the monk’s freedom.
“And the Cambodian government should publicly confirm that he is free to return to Cambodia, where he is a citizen,” Adams said.
The HRW statement said the “politically motivated” prosecution of Sakhorn by the Vietnamese court was a thinly veiled attempt by the Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities to stop peaceful dissent by the Khmer Krom minority in both countries.
Khmer Krom monks protesting outside the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh clashed violently with police several times last year, drawing criticism from international rights groups who accused Cambodian authorities of using electric batons and clubs to beat the monks and dissuade future demonstrations.
Vietnamese embassy spokesperson Trinh Ba Cam, who told the Post on July 9 that he had no information on Sakhorn, said NGOs that released statements about his case did not understand the real situation in Vietnam.