CCHR Director, Ou Virak, and Tim Sakhorn's father, Tim Team (right), were among the speakers at a public meeting in Takeo on August 1to protest the missing monk's disappearance and incarceration.
Takeo seems like any other small town - dogs sleeping in dusty forecourts, chickens
scratching in the dirt, brightly clothed children laughing in the street.
But beneath the wide smiles and everyday mundanities, it is a community paralysed
"I want to say a lot, but sometimes I am afraid. I'm afraid for my son and daughter.
I'm afraid the soldiers will come and beat me," said one man.
He had approached the Post, despite saying he would be watched for doing so, as he
felt he had no option but to speak out against the government.
Since Tim Sakhorn, abbot of Takeo's Phnom Den pagoda disappeared more than six weeks
ago, the atmosphere has grown increasingly fraught with claims of government spying,
beatings and intimidation.
Sakhorn has since been found in detention in Vietnam, ending a five-week wait by
Sakhorn's family for news on whether he was alive or dead.
The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), a local human rights NGO, said it had
confirmed with Vietnamese officials that Sakhorn had been arrested and detained.
However Vietnam had rejected calls to return him to Cambodia, saying Sakhorn, an
ethnic Khmer Krom, was a Vietnamese citizen.
It claimed Sakhorn had been receiving money from Khmer Krom to protest against the
But several villagers told the Post that despite the claims he was undermining Hanoi-Phnom
Penh relations, Sakhorn often provided assistance to Vietnamese immigrants.
"He worked for the community and he has no fear. He has been good for the people
here in Takeo. But the government dislikes him because it listens to all the monks
who say his actions are no good. The problem that happened is a political issue,"
said one man.
That assertion was backed by CCHR, who said it was clear Sakhorn had done little
more than welcome Khmer Krom workers who had arrived in his district from Vietnam.
It had written to the Vietnamese government demanding the monk immediately be returned
to his home.
None of the locals who spoke with the Post wished to be identified because they were
so concerned for their safety.
The spectre of alleged spies has had the desired effect - many of this tiny community
were now too scared to say anything.
"They are afraid to speak out because the commune is listening," the Post
was told. There are grave fears in the community for the missing abbot's safety,
but the very real threat of violence in the border town is discouraging any efforts
to find him, said another.
"We don't know for sure where he is. The people are afraid to say anything because
the Vietnamese will hit them a lot."
The Phnom Den pagoda was the location for an August 1 public meeting organised by
the CCHR to allow the community to voice its displeasure at the handling of the Sakhorn
CCHR claimed that authorities had confiscated loudspeakers and audio equipment in
what it said was an obvious attempt at "gagging of voices of dissent."
Despite this, around 400 people, including several members of Sakhorn's family, gathered
at the meeting. Both supporters and detractors had their say - some claimed Sakhorn
had brought shame upon the pagoda following accusations that he had had a sexual
affair with a woman.
Regardless of such accusations, the general mood was one of simmering anger, and
most of those gathered said his defrocking and subsequent deportation was improper
Sakhorn was a "good monk," said one local.
"Whether he is right or wrong [the authorities] must respect local law. Why
did the government need to deport him to Vietnam? All the people in this community
want to see Tim Sakhorn come back here, because they want to know about his actions,"
CCHR also questioned the independence of Buddhist Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong,
who ordered Sakhorn's defrocking on June 30, and said he had been closely affiliated
to the ruling CPP since 1979.
"It is clear to CCHR that the Ministry of Cults and Religions (MoCR) has an
unhealthy degree of control over the Great Supreme Patriarch, and the structure of
the Buddhism in Cambodia in general," it said in a press release.
It called for the MoCR to relinquish its hold on the structure of Buddhism in Cambodia
so that the religion would "no longer be politically entwined with the government."
But Kirivong district governor, Tek Song Lim, said there had been no political interference.
"When the monk didn't respect the rules, he didn't get respect from the people.
Please realize the truth - there were no authorities who arrested [Sakhorn].
Phnom Den commune chief, Tean Sareth, agreed.
"The defrocking of Tem Sakhorn had nothing to do with the authorities. We were
accused of bringing a girl into his room [to set Sakhorn up]. That was not true.
We respect the Buddhist beliefs. We did not commit these bad deeds we are accused