Facing arrest, monk vows to remain in pagoda

Monk Keo Somaly outside Tuol Kork’s Neak Vorn pagoda.
Monk Keo Somaly outside Tuol Kork’s Neak Vorn pagoda. Pha Lina

Facing arrest, monk vows to remain in pagoda

Cries of political motivation as activist threatened with defrocking

After a scuffle broke out between monks at Tuol Kork’s Neak Vorn pagoda on Thursday night, a well known saffron-robed activist was yesterday given a 48-hour deadline to leave the pagoda and likely face arrest.

Keo Somaly, a bespectacled 27-year-old activist who was a frequent presence at opposition party demonstrations following last July’s election and a fervent supporter of the capital’s land rights activists, has long feuded with the pagoda’s clergy over his political activities.

On Thursday night he was called to a meeting with the pagoda’s senior monks to talk about tensions between some monks living there. The tensions are believed to be based on political affiliations.

A fight broke out when Somaly tried to stop younger students from taking photos of him during the meeting. He claims that he was punched in the face.

The pagoda chief and disciplinary committee, however, say that Somaly attacked and injured Long Chheng Hy, 29, another monk.

“The pagoda chief has set a deadline for him to leave the pagoda within 48 hours. If he does not leave the Neak Vorn pagoda during this period, he will be defrocked and transferred to police,” deputy pagoda abbot Sim San said.

Yesterday, as Somaly refused to leave the pagoda building he lives in, police waited outside.

Chea Sarath, a district police officer, said that Chheng Hy had filed a complaint with the commune police and that authorities were taking action.

“We have asked the court prosecutor to issue a warrant for his arrest,” he said yesterday. “We will arrest him when he is defrocked or when the 48-hour deadline expires.”

But yesterday evening, Somaly said he would not obey the deadline, set for tomorrow.

“I will not leave from this pagoda because I did not commit any wrong that I have been accused of,” he said. “If I leave, I will also be arrested, so I will stay here. I will not leave my room.”

Rights and legal aid groups have taken Somaly’s side, and say they believe he is being targeted for political reasons by the Phnom Penh Municipality.

“This case is definitely motivated by politics,” said Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center.

City spokesman Long Dimanche could not be reached for comment.

More than a dozen activists have been arrested this week, including three monks, as part of a crackdown in the capital. Two opposition party members have also been arrested.

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