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Thach Chanh Da Ra. Credit: VOV.


Khmer-Krom Buddhist monk arrested, charged and removed from office in southern Vietnam

28 Mar 2024

A Khmer-Krom Buddhist monk was arrested, defrocked and charged under Article 331 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code on 26 March.

Thach Chanh Da Ra served as the abbot (head monk) at the Dai Tho Pagoda in Southern Vietnam’s Vinh Long province. The Vietnamese government has accused him of using his position of influence in the pagoda to ‘abuse the rights to democratic freedom.’

All religious groups must be officially registered with the Vietnamese government. The Dai Tho pagoda has refused to do this, claiming that it would affect their ability to practice their faith without government interference. 

Two lay Buddhists from the pagoda, Kim Khiem and Thach Ve Sanal were also arrested and charged. Mr Khiem was also charged under Article 331. Mr Sanal was charged under Article 157, which criminalises ‘making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ for his role in obstructing police from entering the Dai Thoa pagoda in November 2023.

Last week, two Khmer Khrom activists were also charged and jailed under Article 331 after they organised trainings on the rights of indigenous people under international law.

Approximately 1.3 million Khmer-Krom live in a part of southwest Vietnam that was once part of Cambodia. The Khmer-Krom are predominantly Buddhist and share many cultural, political and linguistic ties to Cambodia. The Khmer-Krom have faced serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and movement.

CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘Article 331 has rightly been widely criticized as it gives the Vietnamese government tacit permission to arrest and charge any dissenting voices they please. The charges brought against Mr Da Ra, Mr Khiem and Mr Sanal show that the government is specifically targeting key religious leaders of an already oppressed ethnic minority group. All Vietnamese citizens have the right to freedom of religion or belief, but the Vietnamese government wish to inhibit this right, not to expand it, they wish to quash minority voices, not to encourage their participation in civil society. The international community needs to recognise these persistent, flagrant and egregious human rights violations, and hold the Vietnamese government to account for its continued failure to meet the standards expected of a member of the UN Human Rights Council.’

Notes to Editors:

  1. De-frocking is the process by which a religious leader is publicly removed from office. Typically, this action is taken by members of the religious group in question on the grounds of moral failure or criminal activity.
  2. Article 331 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code states: ‘Any person who abuses the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, lawful rights, and interests of organizations and/or citizens shall receive a warning or face a penalty of up to 3 years of community sentence or 6 - 36 months in prison.’ It adds: ‘If the offense has a negative impact on social security, order, or safety, the offender shall face a penalty of 2-7 years in prison.’



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