Siem Reap police said Wednesday they had searched and confiscated materials from the home of prominent activist monk and human rights defender Venerable Luon Savath, who has since denied being part of an alleged love scandal.
Last week, the Monk Council in Siem Reap announced in a statement that Luon Sovath had been expelled from the clergy for allegedly having intimate relationships with multiple women. This was based on an investigation carried out by the council, the statement read, into Facebook videos purportedly showing him having intimate conversations with at least four women.
However, on Wednesday, Luon Sovath published a social media post calling the Facebook videos fake, manipulated, and denied having any intimate relations with anyone.
“I vehemently deny the allegations, these exaggerations, this smear campaign... which is to make a story that is not true,” he wrote in the Facebook post.
The activist monk did not respond to multiple telephone and social media requests for comment on Wednesday.
In his post, Luon Sovath said the case was a politically-motivated targeting of him and that he was in hiding. “I am now at a safe place far from the cruel animals, like crocodiles and tigers, who can eat [me],” he said.
He added that the police had visited the homes of his parents and two of his nephews, detaining the nephews and questioning them overnight. The police, he said in the post, had also taken away his nephews’ phones, the monk’s camera equipment, an SUV and a television and refrigerator.
“My private property kept at a provincial police station has not been given back,” he said on Facebook.
The Monk Council in Siem Reap could not be reached on Wednesday, leaving it unclear if the police actions were linked to the council’s investigation into the recordings.
Siem Reap Police Chief Tith Narong confirmed that the monk’s home had been searched and some materials are taken into possession, but would not give a reason for this action.
“The court wants to check the belongings he used and check what it was related to. They wanted to find the truth related to the allegation against him.”
Hesitant to speak about the case or any potential charges, Tith Narong said the venerable monk had not committed a criminal offense but that the investigation was needed to check the veracity of the allegations.
He said the confiscated materials will be sent to Phnom Penh for “expert analysis.”
Siem Reap Provincial Court spokesperson Yin Srang confirmed that a search warrant had been issued for a “primary investigation.”
But, he could not pinpoint the alleged charge or crime committed by Luon Sovath, directing further queries to Chuon Sopanha, another court spokesperson.
Chuon Sopanha said he could not comment on the search of Luon Sovath’s home and belongings. “I cannot comment on the case. I will wait for a report from the police,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, the deputy director for rights monitoring at Licadho, said the NGO was aware that the monk’s home had been searched and his family questioned. He added that it was unclear why these actions were taken when it was a matter related to Buddhist practices and not a criminal investigation.
“There are a lot of questions as to why there was a search of his house and confiscation of property. There is no offense,” he said.
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.
The Monk Council claimed to have investigated the video recordings, but did not provide any evidence or forensic analysis of the videos.
There were four videos circulating on Facebook, and seemed 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 conversations, ranging from 7 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 an image of Luon Sovath and his name in Khmer script. The conversations are flirtatious and include discussions about giving each other massages.
VOA Khmer found another Facebook account, called Lun Sovath, using the same profile picture and was created on May 29, a day before the Srey Da Chi-Kraeng account was created.
Luon Sovath’s online clarification note was posted to three of his often-used personal accounts and page, but not to the Facebook account named “Lun Sovath.”