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UPDATE: Refugee Buddhist Monk Released from Detention in Thailand

Ven. Bor Bet, right, is an environmental activist and a critic of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen. From rfa.org

The Thai authorities have released a Cambodian Buddhist monk and refugee after holding him in custody for two days. According to a report by VOD, an independent media outlet based in Cambodia, the monk, a prominent social activist, was transferred to an undisclosed location in Bangkok.

Venerable Bor Bet, an active environmental campaigner and a vocal critic of the authoritarian government of Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, was arrested at a temple in southern Bangkok late on 1 December.* The latest in a string of UN-certified Cambodian refugees to be detained by Thai police, Ven. Bor Bet was released on bail on the afternoon of 3 December, after two days in police custody.

A deputy spokesperson for Thailand’s Democrat Party, which is a member of the kingdom’s coalition government, confirmed that Bet had been released on bail.

“He is in good condition and the Thai police took good care of him,” said Siripa Intavichein, who is also a spokesperson for the Thai parliamentary committee on torture and enforced disappearance. “I cannot tell you where he is.” (VOA)

Siripa noted that Ven. Bor Bet was required to physically report to the police every 30 days. She added that human rights groups were working to place the monk in a third country if he wanted to leave Thailand.

Ven. Bor Bet has been Thailand since November 2020, after fleeing Cambodia to avoid arrest for participating in protests in Phnom Penh. The demonstrations had called for the release of a labor union leader who was arrested during a government crackdown on political opposition.

“I told my lawyer that with the current situation, I must decide to live in a third country because it is not safe in Thailand,” Ven. Bor Bet was quoted as saying on 3 December by RFA, a US government-funded news service. “I will live in any democratic country. I am deciding right now, but I will go to the country that selects me first,” the monk added, mentioning Australia and Switzerland as possible options. (RFA, VOB)

Human rights campaigners have expressed concern over the possibility that Ven. Bor Bet could be repatriated to Cambodia, where he faces arrest for dissent against the government. If deported, Ven. Bor Bet will be the fourth refugee to be sent back to Cambodia in four weeks. In November, the Thai authorities deported three Cambodians back to Cambodia to face what Human Rights Watch described as “politically motivated charges.” 

“Granting bail to Ven. Bor Bet is a good move by Thailand that reflects that calmer, more reasonable approaches are being considered,” said the deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia, Phil Robertson. “But the reality is he’s not safe in Thailand, so he needs to be allowed to resettle to a third country as quickly as possible.” (BenarNews)

In a statement shared with BDG, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) responded to the news of the monk’s release, urging the Thai government to comply with international law and cease the deportation of refugees.

“APRRN feels that it is important that we reiterate the Royal Thai Government’s obligations under international law,” Programme Officer Daniel Davies told BDG. “We strongly urge the Thai government to: immediately cease its targeting of Cambodian refugees for arrest, detention, and forcible return; comply with Thailand’s international legal obligations, as recognized by the Thai government in its recent statements to the United Nations; and cease the deportation of all refugees and people seeking asylum to places where they are likely to be harmed.”

The APRRN is a network of more than 200 civil society organizations and individuals from 38 countries committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia-Pacific region.

Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94.5 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2015. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 40,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks. Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, with 97.9 per cent of the population of 15.6 million following the Theravada tradition, according to data for 2013 from The World Fact Book. According to Cambodia’s Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, there are 59,516 Buddhist monks and 4,755 monasteries in Cambodia.

* Rights Groups Criticize Treatment of Cambodian Buddhist Monk Arrested in Thailand (BDG)

See more

Urgent Statement: APRRN reiterates the need for the Royal Thai Government to comply with international law and cease the deportation of refugees (Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network)
Updated: Cambodian Monk Released on Bail, Kept at a ‘Safe Location’ (VOD)
Cambodian monk seeks overseas asylum after release from detention in Thailand (RFA)
Cambodian Monk Seeks Overseas Asylum After Release From Detention in Thailand (BenarNews)
UNHCR dismayed by deportation of a third Cambodian refugee by Thai Authorities this month (UNHCR)

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