The Monk Council in Siem Reap province expelled prominent activist monk and human rights defender Venerable Luon Savath on Wednesday, based on leaked audio recordings purportedly between the monk and a group of women.
In a decision dated June 3, head of the Monk Council in Siem Reap, Chum Kimleng, alleged that Luon Sovath had conversations about “deep love” with women, which were shared on Facebook. The statement added that the conversations were between the monk, a woman and her daughters, alleging that Luon Sovath indulged in sexual activity.
“If Luon Sovath wears monk robes from now on, related authorities take legal actions,” read the announcement, which defrocked the monk effective Wednesday.
The Monk Council claimed to have investigated the video recordings, but did not provide any evidence or forensic analysis with the statement to show the voice in the recordings belonged to Luon Sovath or if he had acted in violation of religious norms.
VOA Khmer attempted to reach Luon Sovath on the phone and his social media accounts on Thursday, but the activist monk did not respond to requests for comment.
There are four videos circulating on Facebook, and seem to originate from one account, called Srey Da Chi-Kraeng that was created on May 30. The videos, according to the accompanying text on Facebook, are recordings with four women – a mother and three daughters.
The video recordings are of an unidentified person, or persons, sitting in a dimly-lit room and having Facebook audio conversation, ranging seven to 10 minutes each. The video is shot so that only the person’s hand holding the smartphone can be seen.
The Facebook account involved in the alleged call has a male voice and uses the image of Luon Sovath and his name in Khmer script. The conversations are flirtatious in nature and include discussions about giving each other massages.
VOA Khmer could identify two Facebook accounts and one page used by Luon Sovath in the past. One of the accounts, which seems to belong to the venerable monk was created in 2017, it has the same display picture as that seen in the videotaped Facebook calls.
However, VOA Khmer found another Facebook account, called Luon Sovath, using the same display picture and was created on May 29, a day before the Srey Da Chi-Kraeng account was created.
The Monk Council in Siem Reap could not be reached on Thursday to provide details of their investigation into the recordings.
Bor Bet, a monk and member of Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, received a call from Luon Sovath last week, with the activist monk alleging that “people wanted to mistreat me.”
“He told me that they want to frame him,” Bor Bet said. “[Luon Sovath said] it is a political case and done because we are human right defenders.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Culture and Religion, Seng Somony, said the ministry had received the decision to defrock Luon Sovath, rejecting the accusation that the development was politically motivated.
“It is about violating Buddhist rules, it is not related to politics,” he said, adding that there will be no further investigation into the matter.
“But if [Luon Sovath] wants to prove he didn’t do it, he can prove his innocence in front of the monk chief,” he said.
Luon Sovath has been internationally recognized for his work in documenting land rights abuses in Cambodia and was featured in the documentary, A Cambodian Spring, for his activism. In 2012, the multimedia-savvy monk was nominated for Martin Ennals Awards in Geneva, Switzerland.