One of Cambodia’s senior-most monks has ordered pagodas across the country to deny customary hospitality to a low-level monk who has participated in land protests in Siem Reap province and Phnom Penh.
In an April 26 directive, Non Ngeth, the supreme patriarch of the Maha Nikaya branch of Cambodian Buddhism, said pagodas are no longer permitted to host 30-year-old monk Loun Savath.
In justifying the ban, Non Ngeth said the younger monk’s active participation in land protests are counter to the teachings of Buddha and could lead villagers to think ill of the religion in general.
Loun Savath, who comes from Siem Reap’s Chikreng district, had been supporting villagers there in a long-running land dispute. He recently relocated to Phnom Penh’s Wat Ounalom pagoda, from where he joined protests in the capital by disgruntled residents of the Boeung Kak lake development and by villagers against private concessions in Prey Lang forest.
“He has been involved in politics,” Non Ngeth wrote of Loun Savath. “He joined protests with villagers and has gone everywhere with human rights activists, which is an abuse of Buddha’s rules.”
“If you want to be a politician,” he continued, “take a shovel and dig a ditch for people; don’t join protests.”
Loun Savath, who has since fled Phnom Penh and is back in Chikreang district, told VOA Khmer by phone his actions had not gone against the will of Buddha.
“What I have done is in the name of Cambodian citizens to help social affairs,” he said. “Monks must help people who have problems.”
Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Non Ngeth’s letter was its own political abuse of Buddhism, which does not prohibit social activism.