Feb 22, 2007

UNPO Denounces Siege of Khmer Krom Temples

A peaceful protest for religious freedom has resulted in renewed persecution of Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks in Vietnam, with many in hiding or under house arrest as authorities attempt to punish those responsible.

A peaceful protest for religious freedom has resulted in a renewed wave of persecution against Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks in Vietnam, with many in hiding or under house arrest as authorities attempt to punish those responsible. UNPO condemns these acts of repression and has appealed for intervention. Below is a press release issued by UNPO;

Press Release – 

UNPO Condemns Siege of Temples Following Protest in Vietnam

Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks have been forced into hiding with others still under house arrest

The Hague, 23 February 2007 – The contrast between the tranquil and peaceful life to which all Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks aspire and the reality of the past two weeks could not be starker. What started as a peaceful protest for the right to religious freedom has resulted in the violent intrusion of brutality and arrest into temples across Soc Trang (Kleang) Province in Vietnam.

The Khmer Krom are an indigenous people in southern Vietnam, and on 08 February 2007 approximately 200 Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks partook in a peaceful protest in Soc Trang (Kleang) Province, marking their right to practice their own form of their Buddhist religion. Local Vietnamese police responded quickly by surrounding nearby temples, placing 60 Buddhist Monks under effective house arrest at Wat Ta Sek in order to prevent any further efforts at peaceful protest.

In the days that followed the protest Vietnamese authorities launched operations on an unprecedented scale, aiming to identify and punish those responsible for the demonstration, hoping consequently to subdue once and for all the emerging human rights movement within the Khmer Krom community.

At present, all four temples involved with the protest are surrounded. Wat Tra Sek, Wat Peam Boun, Wat Teok Praiy, and Wat Ta Men, all in Soc Trang (Kleang) Province, remain encircled by heavily armed police and military units, with entry and exit to the Temples severely restricted. Buddhist Monks are being refused travel, and their families are reportedly harassed on a regular basis in the pursuit of information about organisers and participants.

The focus of this operation is to detain and punish those Monks deemed responsible for the protest, with at least eight arrests reported thus far. In all cases the arrested Monks have been forcefully disrobed, a practice not only deeply damaging to the individual, but also enabling Vietnamese authorities to imprison the Monks as civilians. UNPO fears for the safety of all those arrested, as Vietnamese authorities have a well documented history of detaining human rights defenders for prolonged periods without charge or trial, as well as the routine and systematic use of torture.

The siege in Soc Trang (Kleang) Province continues however, as several Monks singled out for arrest have fled into hiding for fear of their safety. Whilst some have undoubtedly headed for the Cambodian border, the most dramatic scenes are unfolding in Wat Ta Sek, where the Venerable Kim Ngoun and the Venerable Son Thy Thon, still protesting their innocence, remain trapped within their heavily guarded Temple. UNPO harbours deep concern for their wellbeing, as their effective condition of house arrest has denied the access to both food and water for a considerable period.

UNPO unreservedly condemns this dramatic response to a simple non-violent act of protest, and continues to urge immediate intervention into this rapidly escalating situation. Violent acts of suppression in response to the legitimate use of democratic instruments of protest only serves to fuel already prevalent social unrest amongst Vietnam’s minority communities. The persecution of Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks must further be seen as part of a wider systematic attempt to undermine minority communities in Vietnam, as these Monks alone bear much of the burden of safeguarding and passing on Khmer Krom language, culture, and religion.

For more information on UNPO or these events, contact the UNPO Secretariat, Michael Gibb, tel.: +31(0)70 3646 504 - Email: unpo@unpo.org