A Cambodian Buddhist monk and outspoken critic of his country’s authoritarian has been released after two days in Thai custody and is seeking asylum in “any democratic country” that will take him, he told RFA on Friday.
Ven. Bor Bet had taken refuge in Thailand in November 2020 to avoid arrest for joining protests in Phnom Penh demanding the release of a jailed labor union leader.
He was arrested Wednesday night at a temple in Samut Prakan south of Bangkok and transferred to an immigration detention center, sparking fears he would be deported to Cambodia and join the score of political prisoners put behind bars in Hun Sen’s four-year crackdown on opponents.
“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,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service Friday.
“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 Switzerland as one candidate.
“The monk was granted bail and released at 2 p.m. today. He is currently in Bangkok,” said Siripa Intavichein, the deputy spokeswoman for Thailand’s Democrat Party and for the Thai parliamentary committee on torture and enforced disappearance.
“The next step is the UNHCR, Human Rights Watch and other organizations to deal with foreign embassies to find for him third-country asylum. Many countries are offering him refuge,” she told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news agency.
While initial reports said he had been defrocked as a Buddhist monk, Bor Bet said he was retained his Buddhist monk robe.
“Granting bail to Ven. Bor Bet is a good move by Thailand that reflects that calmer, more reasonable approaches are being considered,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“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,” he told BenarNews.
Bor Bet’s detention Wednesday in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok, follows Thailand’s arrest and quick deportation to Cambodia of four other activists affiliated with Cambodia National Rescue Party, which Hun Sen had banned in 2017.
Mich Heang, a member of the CNRP who was arrested in Thailand on Nov. 20 and delivered the next day to Cambodia and is under interrogation at the Interior Ministry’s National Police Commissariat General on charges of conspiracy for posting social media messages critical of Hun Sen, RFA reported Tuesday.
Mich Heang’s arrest and deportation from Thailand followed those earlier in November of Cambodian activists Voeun Veasna, Voeung Samnang and Lahn Thavry.
“Doing something right in one case doesn’t absolve Thailand of the horrendous damage they have caused to the three refugees sent back earlier this month who are now in Cambodian prisons,” said HRW’s Robertson.
“It’s time for Thailand to end its ‘swap mart’ arrangements with neighbors, and truly respect refugees’ rights,” he added.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service and BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news agency. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Paul Eckert and Roseanne Gerin.