09/01/2011, 00.00
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Phnom Penh: Activist monk could be arrested for his fight against land grabs

Both religious and civil authorities are after Loun Sovath, 30. Nicknamed the ‘multimedia monk’, he could be jailed for defending the poor and farmers. His response has been to intensify his work to defend their rights. Other monks and university students have been banned from meeting him.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Human rights activist and media savvy monk Loun Sovath will continue his fights against forced land grabs, despite the real possibility that he might end up in jail on the order of Cambodian authorities. Nicknamed the ‘multimedia monk’, he has already been banned from the country’s monasteries because of his fight on behalf of the poor and ordinary people. Non Nget, supreme patriarch at the Ounalom Pagoda in Phnom Penh, has threatened to expel five monks and ten university students if they contacted Loun Sovath if he should visit the monastery, where he lived for a long time in the recent past.

The media savvy 30-year-old is perhaps Cambodia’s most famous activist Buddhist monk. He has repeatedly denounced abuses, land grabs and forced relocations. He has been banned from temples because monks are not allowed to take part in politics or street protests. On several occasions, he has come to being arrested, but he has never wavered in his fight for the rights of the weak. “The more they threaten me, the more I stand up for our rights," the Venerable said.

He got his nickname because he videotapes land grabs and gives copies to the media. He has earned the public’s respect and remains one of a kind, because few venerable and masters fight on other people’s behalf.

His peaceful activism has brought him to the attention of humanitarian groups and associations as well as earned him the support of the population, but it also caused the displeasure of the authorities, who do not tolerate protests, especially if economic interests are at stake.

Loun Sovath entered monkhood at the age of 13. He became an activist when he witnessed a land grab in his native village in 2009. On that occasion, police fired at unarmed villagers protesting against the confiscation of their fields.

He captured much of the confrontation on camera and successfully resisted police attempts to confiscate his material.

His work on behalf of human rights has made him a “high-profile target”, according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director with Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Non Nget, supreme patriarch at Ounalom Pagoda, has threatened to evict five monks who, along with ten university students, who might want to contact the ‘multimedia monk’.

The venerable has given them an ultimatum to prevent other monks from following Loun Sovath’s example.

However, sources inside the pagoda that asked for anonymity said that the supreme patriarch is the victim of political pressures from high up to get him to put a stop to his former disciple’s activism.
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