An American Buddhist monk writes a letter to his local congressmen on the issue of Tim Sakhorn. See below: Dear Friends, I am writing to ask for your urgent assistance in a matter of life or death, in regard to the human rights violation of a Buddhist monk by the government of Vietnam. Venerable Tim Sakhorn, abbot of Phnom Den North Pagoda in Cambodia, has been taken as a political prisoner in Vietnam, and is in grave danger of “disappearing.” I am writing concerned about this because I am a Buddhist practitioner with many Cambodian friends in the Seattle area, as well as in Cambodia. I am a resident of Seattle. In recent months, the government of Vietnam has unleashed a new wave of religious persecution against ethnic and religious minorities in their country. Venerable Tim Sakhorn has been swept up in this terrible persecution because of his humanitarian services – such as food and shelter – to Khmer Krom refugees who are fleeing southern Vietnam into Cambodia. He is a very gentle and compassionate Buddhist monk, a beloved leader of his village community. [Khmer-Krom are the eight-million ethnic Cambodians who live in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.] Here are some of the facts leading up to the “disappearance” of Venerable Tim Sakhorn: February 8 – Two hundred Buddhist monks held a peaceful demonstration in Vietnam calling for religious freedom. The Vietnamese government is trying to suppress the practice of Buddhism and the use of Khmer language. The government arrested, intimidated, defrocked and imprisoned nineteen Buddhist monks. Five of them are still currently imprisoned for allegedly organizing the peaceful demonstration. The Vietnamese government intensified their persecution of the ethnic Cambodians in their country, causing a wave of refugees into Cambodia during the following months. Many of these people stopped at Venerable Tim Sakhorn’s temple in Cambodia, seeking food and temporary shelter. Feb 27 – In response to these arrests, Buddhist monks living in Cambodia organized a peaceful rally in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. A few hours after the demonstration, Venerable Eang Sok Thoeun, a monk who took part in the demonstration was found dead with his throat slit in a temple in Cambodia. Local Cambodian authorities had the body buried immediately and refused to allow his parents to organize a formal Buddhist funeral service for him. April 20 – Buddhist monks held another peaceful demonstration in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh, and were met with violence, resulting in the injury of Venerable Lim Uth, a 23-year-old Buddhist monk. June 30 – Venerable Tim Sakhorn, abbot of North Phnom Den Pagoda in Cambodia, was forcibly disrobed by Cambodian authorities because of his humanitarian assistance to Khmer Krom refugees in Cambodia. He was accused of “to propagating activities that divide the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam”. He was taken into custody and “disappeared”. July 3 – General Khieu Sopheak, Spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Interior, announced that Tim Sakhorn, who had been living in Cambodian since 1979 and held a Cambodian passport, had been extradited to Vietnam, as reported in the Cambodian Daily. Venerable Tim Sakhorn was held incommunicado for the following month. August 2 – the Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia announced that Venerable Abbot Tim Sakhorn was jailed in Vietnam and that would sentenced for political crimes of criticizing the government, and that he “undermined the friendship between Cambodia and Vietnam.” August 3 – Thanh Nien News (Hanoi Radio) announced that Venerable Tim Sakhorn was indeed in custody in Vietnam. They said he had “confessed” that he worked for human rights of Khmer Krom people, with the support of the US-based Khmer Krom Federation. He will be sentenced to prison for an indefinite term. Venerable Tim Sakhorn is a kind and gentle monk. He has been caught into this political crossfire, because his temple is located on the path in which Kampuchea Krom refugees are fleeing oppression in Vietnam and seek asylum in his temple. He is the father figure and mentor for dozens of young monks and countless peasant farmers in his village. They feel lost and frightened without him. I urge you to take whatever action possible to procure the safety and freedom of Venerable monk Tim Sakhorn. Please contact the Vietnamese embassy and inquire about the safety and request the release of Venerable Tim Sakhorn. The only protection this vulnerable man has is the attention we can garner from the international community. Please help us. Other actions that might help:
- Call upon Cambodian authorities to respect their obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of refugees
- Call upon the Vietnamese authorities to end their arbitrary and unlawful persecution of the Khmer Krom community, including that of Buddhist monks.
- Urge the Government of Vietnam to assure the safety and human rights and political rights of Venerable Tim Sakhorn
- Remind Vietnamese authorities of their obligations under international treaties, including the Universal declaration of Human Rights, and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, as well as internationally recognized standards of justice.
- Raise the issue of human rights in their relations with representatives from governments of Cambodia and Vietnam in particular with respect the minorities such as Khmer Krom
- Call for investigations of the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments in regard to their treatment of ethnic minorities and Buddhist monks, must urgently Venerable Tim Sakhorn.
Thank you so much for your kind attention, Venerable Santidhammo