Buddish Supreme Patriarch Non Nget has banned pagodas in the capital from hosting Loun Savath, the activist monk who frequently joins land dispute protests and advocates on behalf of displaced villagers.
Loun Savath hails from Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district and has been active in supporting villagers in a long-running land dispute there that has seen multiple community representatives arrested. He later relocated to Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, and has joined protests in the capital by residents of the Boeung Kak lakeside and of the Prey Lang forest area.
In a letter dated April 26 and received by Loun Savath last week, Non Nget said pagodas in Phnom Penh are no longer permitted to house the 31-year-old monk because his actions have “caused villagers to think badly about Buddhism”.
“What he did is not related to the monks’ point of view and has broken the Buddha’s rules,” Non Nget wrote.
Loun Savath fled Phnom Penh in March for fear of arrest in relation to his activism before resurfacing at a rally held in the capital by the Prey Lang villagers two weeks ago. There, he was forced to flee the scene with the assistance of rights groups when it appeared that local authorities were planning his arrest.
Loun Savath said yesterday that he was undeterred by Non Nget’s directive and would continue with his activism.
“The Buddha says that monks must help people who have problems and educate people to do good deeds,” he said. “When villagers have a problem, I cannot ignore them.”
Loun Savath’s land activism has made him unique among Cambodian monks, and he has received little backing for his efforts from religious officials here. Following protests against the Boeung Kak evictions in April, Phon Davy, director of the municipal cults and religions department, said Loun Savath had in fact drawn the ire of Tep Vong, Cambodia’s highest-ranking monk.
“[Loun Savath] has violated the rules to such an extent that the Great Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia, Tep Vong, issued a warning letter to ban all monks from joining protests,” Phon Davy said at the time.
Loun Savath has so far taken little heed, however.
“What the authorities have done to me is a serious violation of human rights and Buddhist law,” he said yesterday.
“I have done nothing wrong, so why are they evicting me from my pagoda?”
Ouch Leng, head of the land programme at local rights group Adhoc, said Non Nget’s directive was unjustified.
“The authorities should be encouraging him, because what he does is not for himself, but to find justice for people who are victims of land disputes,” Ouch Leng said.