Monk evicted from pagoda

Posted by: | Posted on: September 13, 2011

Phnom Penh Post  Monday, 12 September 2011 15:02 May Titthara

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Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Venerable Luon Sovath speaks to reporters at Ounalom pagoda in Phnom Penh before removing his personal belongings from his room. The activist monk has been banned from pagodas.

A group of residents facing eviction from the Boeung Kak area yesterday turned out to support the monk who has shaken Cambodia’s Buddhist hierarchy by his peaceful advocacy on their behalf.

About 20 residents of the area helped Venerable Loun Sovath remove his personal belongings from Ounalom pagoda yesterday morning, following an order from Supreme Patriarch Non Nget that he do so.

The latest order followed one in April that banned the 32-year-old rural monk from all pagodas in the capital.

Boeung Kak representative Kong Chantha, 44, said it was an injustice that Loun Savath had been banned.

“Only in Pol Pot’s regime did they force monks from pag-odas. Now it seems the Pol Pot regime has come back,” Kong Chantha said.

“Not only are villagers forcibly evicted, they forcibly evicting a monk from the pagoda. Where is the justice in Cambodia?”

Venerable Sinton Lee, a monk from Long Beach, California, said Loun Sovath had not broken any Buddhist laws. “I will file a complaint to all embassies in Phnom Penh to find justice for him,” he said.

Loun Sovath said the order from Supreme Patriarch Non Nget violated his rights as a monk because all monks were allowed to stay in the pagoda, which belongs to the Cambodian people.

“I have to leave the pagoda, otherwise some monks and students will be evicted.”

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Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Venerable Luon Sovath speaks to reporters while cleaning out his room at Phnom Penh’s Wat Ounalom pagoda yesterday.

He summed up the motivat-ion for his advocacy on behalf of impoverished communities involved in land disputes with well connected companies and individuals as the returning of a favour. “I am a monk. I receive food from villagers to eat. So if they have a problem, I have to help them by blessing them and thanking them.”

Am Sam Ath, an investigator with rights group Licadho, said all people had the right to freedom of speech, regardless of their religion.

“What the authorities did is send a message to other monks not to follow Loun Sovath’s steps. Otherwise, they will be forcibly evicted from the pagoda as well,” he said.

Loun Sovath had been told that if he did not remove his personal belongings from a room inside the pagoda, the nine university students from villages who lived in the house for free would be forced to leave.

Venerable Non Nget could not be reached for comment by the Post yesterday.