07/03/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Released, immediately "disappeared": Buddhist monk and "rights defender" Sakhorn

Freed after a year in prison following a controversial sentence, he is being sequestered by authorities, Human Rights Watch accuses. Of Khmer Krom ethnicity, he has fought for the rights of his people, who are persecuted in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/HRW) - The Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn has "disappeared", after the " pacifist activist and defender of human rights" was released in Vietnam on June 28, after spending a year in prison.  The non-governmental group Human Rights Watch accuses the Vietnamese authorities and asks them to "immediately lift any restrictions on [his] liberty".

After he was released, public officials brought him to his home town in the province of An Giang, where they had organised a welcome party.  Local sources report that they offered him land and a spacious home if he would remain in the village, then took him away again and now - HRW charges - it is not known where he is.  Article 38 of the penal code permits the authorities to place released prisoners under house arrest or "probationary detention" for 1 to 5 years, for "re-education", depriving them of the right to travel, vote, or lead religious groups.

Born in Vietnam, Sakhorn has lived in Cambodia since 1978, and has become a citizen of that country.  In 2002, the supreme Cambodian Buddhist patriarch Tap Vong appointed him abbot of the Northern Phnom Den pagoda in the province of Takeo.  He has always fought for the rights of the Khmer Krom, and has sheltered migrants and exiles from Vietnam in his pagoda.

Sakhorn was arrested in Cambodia on June 30, 2007, for having "compromised relations between Cambodia and Vietnam", and was immediately extradited to Vietnam, in spite of the fact that he is a Cambodian citizen.  On November 8, the tribunal of the province of An Giang sentenced him to year in prison for "harming national unity", in a trial in which he was allowed no legal assistance.

HRW charges that this was an attempt by Vietnam and Cambodia to interfere with the non-violent dissent of the Khmer Krom minority: in the months leading up to the arrest, there were numerous peaceful protests in both countries by Khmer Krom farmers and monks, against the confiscation of their land and for the release of five Buddhist monks arrested in Vietnam in February of 2007, after a demonstration in Soc Trang.

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