Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday threatened to have two military officials fired for conducting interviews over a recent sexual scandal involving a former monk.
And even as he appealed to the people to maintain the “value of Buddhism and Cambodian women”, an observer commented that the issue didn’t require intervention from the Kingdom’s top politician.
Speaking in Kompong Thom province at a ceremony to inaugurate the expansion of National Road 6 on Monday, the prime minister called for an end to discussions surrounding the case of Srel Vanna, a former monk at Phnom Bakleu pagoda who stands accused of raping a 19-year-old Banteay Meanchey woman.
The story has gone viral on social media, with users referring to the ascetic as the monk who “eats boiled corn”, a joke taken from the video that spawned the controversy and a play on the Khmer word for monk.
Pheng Vannak and Khan Chan Sophal, who interviewed Vanna and his alleged victim respectively on Facebook Live, were threatened with demotion by the prime minister.
Vannak, a former senior official at the Ministry of Interior and current employee of the General Command Headquarters of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, has a tumultuous history on social media.
He was previously investigated after posting death threats against former CNRP President Kem Sokha on his Facebook page, and was fined in a defamation case filed by a CPP senator.
Hun Sen claimed he contacted Vannak on Saturday but said on Monday he hadn’t yet met Chan Sophal, a soldier and CPP activist.
“It is inappropriate of our officials . . . one talked with the monk and another insulted him [the monk] for that matter. They deserve a beating with sticks because it is immoral. [The monk] has already made the mistake and both of you also try to make the mistake too,” he said.
Hun Sen told the people to “keep silent” in order to maintain the value of Buddhism and the chastity of Cambodian women, saying the religion shouldn’t be disgraced by one or two people.
“I appeal for the end of this matter in order to maintain the value of Buddhism and Cambodian woman. That is the matter of only two people and now it is like an earthquake . . . the monk has been punished already and the woman received enough shame,” he stressed.
Contacted on Monday, Vannak claimed that Hun Sen contacted him on Saturday and he compared the encounter to a father advising his son after he makes a mistake. He said he will respect the advice.
“First, I respect the advice of Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] and we will correct our mistake because we have made a mistake and he advised us and we have to respect his advice,” he said.
Vannak denied commenting again about the interview with Vanna.
Chan Sophal could not be reached for comment on Monday, but wrote on his Facebook page after the warning that he will stop doing things that disgraced Buddhism.
“I, Khan Chan Sophal, would like to express gratitude and thanks to Samdech Techo [Hun Sen] for the advice in the matter affecting Buddhism’s value.”
San Chey, director of NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the prime minister did not have to react to the matter himself.
“There might be a problem if they [Vannak and Chan Sophal] take action for their private interest, political partiality or because they want to become famous . . . but the debate needs to be independent and neutral and aims to help vulnerable people,” he said.
“They are a part of the armed forces, so advice, discipline or punishment should be the authority of the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Interior. It is unnecessary for Hun Sen to react because there are two institutions involved with authority and an established framework,” he said.