Luon Sovath, Martin Ennals 2012 Laureate, faces a defamation campaign

July 21, 2020

Luon Sovath, Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2012, was expelled from The Monk Council in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on June 4 following a defamation campaign against him. Defending human rights should not be a crime, the Martin Ennals Award deeply regrets what happened.

Who is Luon Sovath?

The Venerable Luon Sovath is the Martin Ennals Award 2012 Laureate. From Siem Reap, Cambodia, the Venerable Sovath is a Buddhist monk who mixes traditional Buddhist teachings with modern technology to document the struggles of grassroots communities fighting against land grabbing and forced eviction in the countryside.

What happened to him?

A few years ago, Sovath witnessed his family and fellow villagers being forcibly evicted from their homes. After witnessing this, the Venerable Sovath used videos, poems, and songs to defend the right to housing. Unfortunately, his advocacy touches powerful economic interests in Cambodia, and he is regularly threatened with physical assault, arrest, and imprisonment from the authorities.

The latest threat Luon Sovath faces is a defamation campaign against him.He was expelled from his Buddhist order by the Monk Council in Cambodia based on an audio recording of an alleged conversation between himself and a group of women. The recording was circulated via a Facebook account in his name, but which was quickly erased within 24 hours. One of the women denied the events and called the allegations fake. Despite the flimsy evidence, monk authorities claimed the Venerable Sovath behaved improperly and should be defrocked.

Why is this happening in Cambodia?

Human Rights are deteriorating since 2019 and more and more NGO leaders, opposition party members and ordinary citizens are being detained and held in prison. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, around 90 people were held in pretrial detention or prison on politically motivated convictions, in mid-November 2019. A few repressive laws firmly reduce rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Due to these measures, attacks on Human Rights Defenders became common in Cambodia. The Government has progressively reduced media freedom, and social media are monitored closely.

What did the Martin Ennals Foundation and other NGOs do about it?

On the ground in Cambodia and Thailand, several NGO partners and the UNHCR helped the Venerable Sovath find a safe haven. The Martin Ennals Foundation will support him in countering this defamation campaign.

Learn more about Luon Sovath