Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian government to ensure the safety of Buddhist monks whom police attacked during a peaceful protest.
Last week, riot police assaulted a group of 47 Khmer Krom Buddhist monks — indigenous ethnic Khmer from southern Vietnam — when they attempted to deliver a petition protesting the imprisonment of monks in Vietnam to the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Touch Naroth accused the monks of being “fake.”
“These Khmer Krom monks have suffered police abuse in Cambodia and face imprisonment and torture if they’re sent to Vietnam,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Cambodian government shouldn’t emulate Burma’s generals by brutally cracking down on monks who peacefully protest. They are Cambodian citizens who deserve protection, not more mistreatment, from the Cambodian government.”
Human Rights Watch is concerned that Cambodian authorities will now arrest, defrock, and forcibly send the monks who protested to Vietnam, where they could face severe reprisals. Vietnam has a policy of imprisoning peaceful critics of the government, including Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, human rights lawyers, and trade union activists.
The Cambodian government has previously deported Khmer Krom to Vietnam, even though international law prohibits the expulsion without due process of persons from a country where they legally reside.
In June 2007, Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, a longtime abbot in Cambodia, was defrocked by Cambodian authorities and sent to Vietnam, where he was sentenced to prison on charges of violating Vietnam’s national unity policy because he had allegedly distributed bulletins about Khmer Krom history and politics and sheltered monks fleeing from Vietnam.
In February 2007, Vietnamese authorities arrested, defrocked, and imprisoned Khmer Krom monks in Soc Trang province, Vietnam, for peacefully protesting in support of religious freedom. Five monks were sentenced to prison in Vietnam on charges of disrupting social order. Afterwards, dozens of Khmer Krom monks fled from Vietnam to Cambodia, where they conducted protests in February and April to call for the release of the five monks.
The recent violence took place on December 17, when a group of 47 Khmer Krom monks gathered at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition calling for the Vietnamese government to release six Khmer Krom monks from prison.
Five monks were allowed by police to approach the embassy gate to deliver the petition, but when no one from the embassy came out to receive the petition, the remaining monks began to approach the embassy entrance. The police used their shields to push the monks back, and one monk was hit on the head. Some scuffling ensued. As the monks tried to make their way through police lines a deputy police chief repeatedly ordered his officers to open fire, although they refused to do so.
When it became apparent that some monks would continue in their efforts to approach the embassy, anti-riot police then used their shields and wooden batons to kick and punch the monks, and shocked them with electric batons.
When monks turned and fled, the police chased them for four blocks, kicking and beating the monks along the way.
Six monks were severely injured, and some of the police officers suffered minor scratches and bruises.
Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to promptly and impartially investigate the police’s use of force against the monks and prosecute all those responsible for using unnecessary or excessive violence.
“The police continued to beat the monks even after they had moved away from the embassy, well after the protest was dispersed,” said Richardson. “They were not chasing the monks to carry out lawful arrests, but to beat them.”
In June, the Cambodian Ministry of Cults and Religion issued an order banning Buddhist monks from participating in demonstrations.