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Siem Reap Court Investigating Activist Monk Luon Sovath for Rape

Prominent activist monk Luon Savath speaks to VOA Khmer about Cambodian political commentator Kem Ley’s death after he was killed at a petrol station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)
Prominent activist monk Luon Savath speaks to VOA Khmer about Cambodian political commentator Kem Ley’s death after he was killed at a petrol station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

The Siem Reap Provincial Court has launched a preliminary rape investigation into prominent activist monk Luon Savath, in relation to Facebook videos released last week alleging the monk had inappropriate relations with four women, a charge he has denied.

The alleged videos were released on a Facebook account called “Srey Da Chi-Kraeng” and purportedly showed Venerable Luon Sovath having salacious conversations with a woman and her three daughters. Apart from posting these videos, the account, which was created two weeks ago, has had no other activity.

The activist monk, who is in hiding, has “vehemently” denied the accusation calling it politically motivated. However, the Monk Council in Siem Reap announced on June 3 that he had been expelled from the clergy, accusing him of having sexual intercourse.

Additionally, local police executed a search warrant this week and confiscated materials from the monk’s home.

On Friday, Siem Reap court spokesperson Chuon Sophanha said a victim had complained about the monk and that authorities were investigating the monk for rape.

“We suspect rape since we have the complaints from the victim,” he said.

He refused to provide any details of the alleged crime or if the court had evidence to proceed with the investigation. He also denied confirming if the court had issued an arrest warrant.

“You should not ask who are involved with this since it can affect the investigation and [Luon Sovath] can flee,” he said.

Siem Reap Police Chief Tith Narong said on Friday that Luon Sovath was suspected of committing an offense, but directed queries to the Siem Reap court.

“It is related to audio messages and a complaint from the victim,” he said. “[We] followed the court warrant which is to bring [Luon Sovath] to court.”

On Wednesday, Tith Narong told VOA Khmer that Luon Sovath had not committed a crime, but changed his response on Friday.

According to Article 239 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, a person can be imprisoned for five to ten years for rape, and up to 15 years if the crime was committed under aggravating circumstances.

On Wednesday, Luon Sovath, who had not spoken publicly since the videos were published, said the videos were doctored and that he had not committed any of the alleged crimes. He said the case was politically motivated.

In a long Facebook post, he said police had seized a lot of his property, including an SUV, an icebox, refrigerator, phones, camera equipment and had even questioned two of his “nephews.”

On Friday, Luon Sovath briefly responded to a request for comment, again denying the allegations leveled against him and calling the Facebook account “Srey Da Chi-Kraeng” fake.

“I haven’t chatted or called anyone from my Facebook accounts,” he said. “[I want] to be silent so this can pass.”

“They can accuse anyone since they have the extreme power to create this setup,” he added.

The four videos in question have been circulating on Facebook, and seemed to originate from one account, “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.

This Facebook account links to three other accounts, suggesting they are the three daughters. However, on one of these accounts, the user posted last week that she and her family were being wrongly involved in this issue.

“The page Srey Da Chi-Kraeng is badly intended to mistreat me,” the user said in the post.

In another post from June 2, the user said her sisters and mother had not done “bad things” with Luon Sovath. These Facebook users did not respond to requests for comment.