Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Defrocked monk reinstated after police questioning

A recently defrocked chief monk from a pagoda in Kampong Cham province was restored to his position August 4 after he was cleared of allegations of violating measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The specific nature of the charge against monk Pang Soda is still unknown, but his restoration of status was confirmed by Khim Sorn, who is chief monk of Phnom Penh as well as chief of the secretariat of the Mohanikaya Monk Order. Soda had served in Chamkar Loeu district as head of the Kirivongkot Boreyserey​ Phnom Penh pagoda, also known as Phnom Penh Thmey, and had been defrocked on August 2 after officials issued a warrant to investigate him for a charge related to public health law.

Sorn said he had since prayed with Soda and asked whether he intended to leave the monkhood. When Soda assured him he did not, Sorn granted him permission to take up his monk’s robes again.

Though Sorn described the reinstatement, he didn’t speak to the investigation originally brought against Soda by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Instead, he referred to Kampong Cham provincial monks’ authorities.

“If he is not guilty by the state law, he is not banned from becoming a monk,” Sorn said, explaining the details of Soda’s future appointment are up to provincial religious officials.  

Though no details have yet been released on the specifics of the case against Soda, he was reportedly being investigated by police for allegedly violating the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19. Srey Sopheak, director of the Kampong Cham Provincial Cult and Religion Department, said that Soda had been questioned before making an official apology to the government. After this, he was allowed to re-ordain as monk.

Sopheak also did not elaborate on the case against Soda but stressed that his defrocking and reinstatement had followed legal procedures.

Soda is originally from the Khmer cultural region traditionally known as Kampuchea Krom, which is now part of Vietnam, and is reportedly active in the Khmer Krom community in Cambodia. Bun Mony, president of the Friendship of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, is familiar with Soda and previously speculated to CamboJA that the monk had been targeted due to his political activity, though Mony didn’t elaborate on what that might have included.

Mony told CamboJA that Soda is currently staying in a safe place but has not yet returned to his pagoda in Chamkar Loeu district. The defrocking had caused a stir among the Kampuchea Krom community, Mony said, but Soda’s reinstatement has been a positive development.

“Both parties solved and understood each other, so he received his freedom back,” Mony said.

Chhay Kim Khoeun, spokesman of National Police, told CamboJA that he did not know about the case. Seng Hieng, deputy prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court could not be reached for comment.