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After Revoking Media License, Gov't Wants Criminal Charges Against Social Media Figure

Social media citizen journalist Pheng Vannak. (Photo photo of Facebook/Pheng Vannak)

The Ministry of Cult and Religion has asked a Kandal court to initiate an investigation into Pheng Vannak, who runs a popular Facebook page, for criticizing a Siem Reap monk for lashing three junior monks.

The Ministry of Cult and Religion wants the Kandal Provincial Court to prosecute Pheng Vannak, who disseminates news and information on his Facebook page and a website, according to a ministry letter to the court on March 19.

The allegations include insulting Buddhist monks, under Article 516 of the Criminal Code, Article 496 for incitement, and Article 233, which deals with death threats. The letter said Pheng Vannak’s comment that he would not sue but “shoot a perpetrator” if they beat his children the way the monk chief beat his juniors amounted to a death threat.

The video, which Pheng Vannak commented on, has been circulating on social media platforms since March 14 and shows the chief monk of Siem Reap’s Reach Bo Pagoda beating three younger monks with a stick. The incident led to an investigation by local authorities.

Last week, the Information Ministry revoked a media license for Pheng Vannak’s online publication for “affecting Buddhism.”

Pheng Vannak met with the Siem Reap monk chief and apologized on Saturday, and also released a public apology, which was posted on his Facebook page.

Ministry of Cult and Religion spokesperson Seng Somony said that despite the apology, the ministry wanted to take legal action so others do not violate the law.

“That was just a private meeting, but we need to pursue legal procedures,” he said on Monday. “An apology can’t replace the insults and death threats.”

Pheng Vannak couldn’t be reached for comments on Monday. His social media page has more than half a million likes and is widely read for the information and news articles he disseminates.

Tin Sochetra, a Kandal Provincial Court spokesperson, said the court had received the ministry’s request on Monday and would process it following judicial procedures.

Pin Sem, Reach Bo Pagoda’s chief monk, said he had accepted Pheng Vannak’s apology and was not aware of the judicial proceedings against him.

“If I don’t forgive him, I would be a worse person than him according to Buddhism,” he said.

Last week, Pin Sem defended his actions by saying that the beatings were not a violent act and an attempt to enforce monastic discipline.

Sok Sam Oeun, a Cambodian legal expert, said there seemed to be no concrete facts to prove a criminal offense was committed.

“He just said it on social media. It is just criticism,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “I don’t see any motive for incitement.”