Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Activist Monk Banned From Pagodas

Buddhist institutions in western Cambodia are ordered to close their doors to a monk who protested forest development.

A prominent Cambodian environmental activist monk has been barred from entering pagodas in his home province after he participated in protests against rainforest destruction in the country.

Chum Kemleng, the highest-ranked monk in Siem Reap, ordered the ban on August 19, 2011 in an open letter to the monastic community, preventing all Buddhist temples in the province from hosting Loun Sovath, who has also been an ardent campaigner for land rights.

In April, he was banned from entering pagodas in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh for participating in land protests.

Pagodas customarily host traveling monks who are in need of a place to stay.

In the letter, Chum accused Loun Sovath, 30, of violating the laws of Buddhism and his sangha (monastic order) when he joined 100 villagers in a demonstration defending Prey Lang forest from development on August 18, 2011 in Phnom Penh.

The villagers, joined by monks and environmental activists, wore dress and make-up inspired by the blockbuster movie "Avatar," which depicts the destruction of a forest on an alien world and its inhabitants' bloody fight to protect their home from miners.

According to an unnamed official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, Loun Sovath is now hiding in an undisclosed location because he fears for his safety.

The same agency had helped Loun Sovath after he was slapped with the ban in April.

The UN official said yesterday that Buddhist authorities in Siem Reap province contacted by the world body had confirmed the ban and that it would only be lifted if the monk agreed to end public support for protesters and “confess his wrongdoings” to the official Buddhist Sangha Council.

Loun Sovath told RFA after he was informed of the ban that he had done nothing wrong.

“I participated with the people to help them seek justice and to share the hardships of those who have suffered human rights violations such as the loss of their homes and land at the hands of private companies,” he said.

“[But], we distributed leaflets that revealed social issues which are relevant to politics.”