Vietnam expels Khmer Krom monk for being ‘uncooperative’

Advocacy group says monk was defending pagoda from an attack.


RFA | 2023.12.04

A provincial board of Vietnam’s only state-recognized Buddhist Sangha decided over the weekend to expel ethnic Khmer Krom monk Thach Chanh Da Ra after authorities accused him of being “uncooperative,” state media reported.

Thach, 33, is the abbot of Dai Tho Pagoda in Vinh Long Province, in southern Vietnam.

According to state media, when a task force from the Tam Binh District People’s Committee came to the pagoda for “working purposes” on Nov. 22, the monk refused task force members entry to the pagoda and filmed their visit to “defame local authorities and divide national unity.”

The state-owned newspaper Giac Ngo Online has since accused Thach of “seriously violating Buddhist law” and the charter of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha by carrying out “propaganda against the state” and refusing to obey the regulations of the VBS.

However, Khmer Krom Buddhists in the region claim that neither Thach nor Dai Tho Pagoda have violated Vietnamese law. 

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation said the Nov. 22 “task force” visit cited in the state media report was actually a planned attack on Dai Tho Pagoda by more than 50 members of the VBS. Three monks were injured in the altercation.

The advocacy group said the Dec. 3 order to expel Ra is the Vietnamese state’s way of punishing the monk for defending the pagoda.

The nearly 1.3-million strong Khmer Krom live in a part of Vietnam that was once southeastern Cambodia. They have faced serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and movement.

Furthermore, they point out that Thach was never even registered with the VBS to begin with, as he felt that affiliating his pagoda with the state-controlled sangha would threaten the preservation of the Khmer Krom minority’s cultural and religious autonomy.

In protest, more than 20 Khmer Krom villagers have begun a sit-in at the pagoda to guard Thach Chanh Da Ra from being removed or arrested by Vietnamese authorities.

Khmer Krom activist Thach Nga told RFA that the monk has only disobeyed local authorities when attempting to protect Khmer Krom cultural heritage. 

For example, the monk once directed the pagoda’s inhabitants to prevent local police from cutting down a 700-year-old Koki tree inside the pagoda. Thach Nga explained that this tree has special cultural significance to the Khmer Krom.

Thach Chanh Da Ra has also gone against local authorities’ wishes by hosting Khmer Krom activists such as Duong Khai at Dai Tho pagoda. 

The monk told RFA that he fears for the safety of Khmer Krom Buddhists in Vinh Long Province.

“I am very worried for the well-being and safety of the monks and Buddhist followers,” he said. “I am very worried about Khmer Krom Buddhism, especially at Dai Tho Pagoda. I do not know how the future of Buddhism and our Khmer Krom indigenous culture will [turn out].”

He has since called on the Cambodian government as well as international human rights organizations to intervene on behalf of the Khmer Krom minority. 

As of Dec. 4, RFA has not been able to obtain a comment from the Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia or from the Cambodian government’s official spokesperson Pen Bona.


Translated by Anna Vu and Sok Ry. Edited by Claire McCrea and Malcolm Foster.




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