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Siem Reap Court to Try Activist Monk Luon Sovath for Rape

FILE - Loun Sovath, a monk activist, talks to VOA Khmer at a convenience store where Mr. Kem Ley was fatally shot, in Phnom Penh, on Sunday, July 9, 2016. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

The Siem Reap Provincial Court has concluded an investigation into rape charges and sent to trial a case against prominent activist monk Luon Sovath, who left the country after he was charged.

The court announced on January 12 that it had formally charged Luon Sovath with rape charges from a case filed last year, as well as an unrelated defamation charge from 2016. The rape charges were linked to videos posted on Facebook by an account called “Srey Da Chi-Kraeng” where Sovath allegedly had intimate conversations with a Siem Reap woman.

Yin Sreng, a Siem Reap court spokesperson, confirmed that the court had concluded the investigation but a trial date had not been scheduled.

The alleged videos were released in May last year and allegedly were of Luon Sovath having salacious conversations with a woman and her three daughters. The account was created shortly before the allegations were posted and did not publish any other posts.

Luon Sovath immediately claimed it was a fake account. Tim Ratha, a Siem Reap resident who was allegedly one of the voices in the video, said the account was impersonating her and denied having any sexual relations with the monk.

The Siem Reap Monk Council proceeded to defrock Luon Sovath in early June and the monk left the country and is seeking asylum while in Switzerland.

Sovath again denied the allegations and said the charges were politically motivated and aimed at “killing” his reputation.

“I can't accept the unethical and inhuman accusations to kill [me]. It is wrong and they set up evidence and fake information,” he said.

Duong Thavry, a deputy police chief in charge of anti-human trafficking in Siem Reap, said authorities had spoken to all three sisters about the accusations against the activist monk, after which one of them made the rape allegation.

“She wanted to sue. We didn't force her,” Duong Thavry said. “Previously, she didn't want to sue because she wanted to keep it confidential. She wanted to hide it.”

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.

Soeng Senkaruna, a spokesman for human rights group ADHOC, said there was no credible evidence, such as the Facebook videos, to accuse Luon Sovath, especially because the woman allegedly in the videos had denied the accusations.

“The charges should be dropped,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of another rights group, Licadho, said there were irregularities and doubts cast over the investigation in Luon Sovath’s case.

“If the [defamation] offense happened in 2016, why not take action in 2016? Why wait to take action in 2020?” he said.