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Peeping-Tom Pagoda Reopens After Scandal

A pagoda that was at the center of a peeping-tom scandal has reopened in Phnom Penh, but it has seen few worshippers.

Sras Chak pagoda, where a monk allegedly convinced women they could be blessed by showering there and then secretly videotaped them, will now have to work to recover its reputation.

The video images have spread throughout Cambodia, passed phone to phone via Bluetooth technology or USB drives, despite a national call from the government to cease their disbursement.

Now defrocked, Net Khai has been charged with shooting video of more than 100 women since 2008. He is also charged with distributing pornography, a crime under the anti-trafficking law. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

The former head of the pagoda, Meas Kong, stepped down as a result of the scandal. The new chief monk, Chhoeng Bunchhea, told VOA Khmer he was preparing internal regulations and rules of Buddhism to restore the reputation of the pagoda.

“Monks are not allowed to bless in hidden rooms,” he said. “We allow the monks to bless people in public spaces.”

He appealed to Cambodians to stop the spread of the footage and destroy copies as an act of good merit.

“All of Cambodian Buddhists should bury what happened at Sras Chak pagoda, and they need to think about Buddhism,” he said.

The pagoda, which is home to 55 monks and 108 students, is now quieter than before and still controlled by investigating police.

The pagoda had previously seen up to 30 or 40 visitors per day, but now very few visit, according to a layman at the pagoda who asked not to be named. The shower room where victims were videotaped has now been destroyed, he said.

“I didn't think Net Khai could commit this video shooting, because he was a gentle man and talked little with ordinary people,” said a monk living near the suspect's quarters.

Chea Vannath, the former head of the Center for Social Development, said the scandal will hurt the reputation of monks as well as the victims.

Police are now investigating whether more suspects were involved in the video shooting.