‘Multimedia monk’ faces baseless charges
The Venerable Loun Sovath, a Cambodian Buddhist monk and human rights defender known as the “multimedia monk” faces trial on baseless charges of incitement. If convicted he could be sentenced to up to two years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. If imprisoned, he would be considered a prisoner of conscience.
The trial hearing, scheduled for 25 November at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, is part of a complex long-running attempt, which started in November 2011, to bring judicial proceedings against Venerable Loun Sovath. He is charged with incitement to commit a felony under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code, for his participation in peaceful protests over forced evictions at Chi Kreng, in Siem Reap province and Boeung Kak Lake, in Phnom Penh. The authorities initially tried to link Venerable Sovath with a case against an individual labelled a “terrorist” by the government and who lives in the USA. A trial took place in August 2012, with both men absent. The judge ordered that the two should be prosecuted separately and stated that there was not enough evidence against Venerable Sovath for a conviction. The case has unexpectedly been renewed.
Venerable Sovath is a prominent human rights defender, supporting communities affected by land disputes and forced evictions throughout Cambodia. Known as the “multimedia monk” he has collected video evidence of communities caught up in land disputes and forced evictions, and has supported activists taken to court and imprisoned for peacefully standing up for their rights. He has used the videos and his own songs and poetry to raise awareness of human rights violations. As a result, he has faced harassment, including death threats, physical and verbal abuse and the threat of imprisonment.
Venerable Sovath has received several awards for his work, including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in October 2012. Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience if he is convicted of the baseless charges against him, which are a reprisal for the lawful exercise of his human rights.