Two spokesmen from the Ministry of Justice warned activist monk But Buntenh over the weekend after his protest against the arrest of fellow monk Horn Sophanny for carrying what appeared to be a fake gun.
“If But Buntenh continues to protest and pressure the court, it’s not good for him or the suspect,” ministry spokesman Chin Malin said yesterday.
Sophanny’s case has not yet gone to trial, but Malin said Sophanny will remain detained during the investigation. Sophanny was arrested on Wednesday in relation to an April Facebook post in which he posted a photo of himself posing with a gun, accompanied by text criticising the government.
On Thursday, Buntenh and other monks from his Independent Monk Network for Social Justice protested outside of the Battambang Provincial Court, demanding the release of Sophanny. Buntenh arrived carrying a fake gun that he maintains is the same as the one depicted in the photo.
Local government-aligned media outlet Fresh News published statements on Saturday from another Justice Ministry spokesman, Kim Santepheap, in which the official defended the authorities’ actions.
“But Buntenh caused confusion and put pressure on the judiciary,” the article quotes Santepheap as saying, adding that his actions “will not provide any benefits to the accused”.
“If the allegation is that the venerable monk held a toy gun, maybe this venerable monk will also be under action from law enforcement,” he said.
Santepheap could not be reached yesterday as he is abroad visiting Cambodian People’s Party supporters in Australia and New Zealand.
Buntenh, meanwhile, called the comments by the spokesmen a form of intimidation.
“They want to destroy my team and divide my members to not be united. They know we are working for our country,” he said, adding that he believes authorities are trying to disrupt his group so they can’t participate effectively in the 2018 national election.
“That is the purpose of Kim Santepheap and the government,” he said.
He also claimed that he was told directly by the local police chief, and officials with the Religious Department, to bring the toy gun to court as evidence. “But when I follow their instructions they start accusing me,” he said.
Buntenh said that he viewed the threats as a “warning”, and said he expects the government may take more concrete action against him if doesn’t fall in line.
Additional reporting by Khouth Sophak Chakrya