A pagoda’s chief monk in Kampong Cham province was defrocked on Thursday and brought by authorities to the capital for questioning on allegations related to the obstruction of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Srey Sopheak, director of the Kampong Cham provincial Department of Cult and Religious Affairs, said on Friday that Pang Soda, chief monk of the Kirivongkot Boreyserey Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh Thmey) pagoda in Chamkar Loeu district, was defrocked after the delivery of a warrant from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Though no details have yet been released on the specifics of the case against Soda, he is reportedly being investigated for allegedly violating the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19.
“Even as monks, we do not have the right to counter the court’s warrant,” Sopheak said. According to the rules of Cambodian monkhood, he added, when any monk is involved in legal matters, they are required to resolve their issues with the state first. If he is not found guilty, he can become a monk again.
A general statement from the Kampong Cham provincial monk authority said that on September 2, officials implemented the warrant to bring an investigation against Soda, who is based in Chamkar Andoung commune. The statement did not provide detail about the case.
“After defrocking, Pang Soda was brought by the authority to Phnom Penh to take action based on the law,” the statement read.
Kampong Cham provincial Police Chief Em Kosal could not be reached for comment. His deputy, Heng Vuthy, said that he didn’t know about the case against the defrocked monk. Plang Sophal, spokesman of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, also said he didn’t know about the case.
The COVID-19 prevention law has been panned by rights groups who say it is overly broad and can be used to criminalize a number of different public activities.
Bun Mony, president of the Friendship of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, said Pang Soda is originally from Kampuchea Krom, the traditionally Khmer ethnic region in what is now southern Vietnam. Mony said Pang Soda had become a monk in the 1990s.
“His arrest seems irregular because there are many police officials and relevant officials surrounding his pagoda and his monk house,” Mony said. “For me, I think that it is almost related to politics due to his expression.”
Mony said Pang Soda had added new structures to the pagoda complex and had in the past received an honorary medal from the government. He said Soda also distributed gifts to poor people and participated in activities of the Friendship of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association.