Updated: Cambodian Monk Released on Bail, Kept at a ‘Safe Location’

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Activist monk Bor Bet photographed after he was detained in Thailand Wednesday evening. (Supplied)

UPDATED 7:46 p.m. — Cambodian monk Bor Bet was released on bail from detention with Thai immigration Friday afternoon and is now at an undisclosed location, a Thai parliamentarian said.

The activist monk, who is a frequent critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen, was detained Wednesday evening and transferred to Immigration Bureau on Wednesday. He spent the night there.

Siripa Intavichein, a deputy spokesperson for the Democrat Party, which is part of the ruling coalition government in Thailand, confirmed that Bet had been released on bail and was transferred to a safe location.

“He is in good condition and the Thai police took good care of him,” she said. “I cannot tell you where he is.”

Bet told VOD on Thursday, when he was at the immigration department, that he was “still strong” and going through what many activists had previously faced.

Siripa said the monk had to visit the police every 30 days, but there were no other restrictions as long as he did not break any Thai laws. She added that rights groups were working on trying to get Bet placed in a third country, if he wanted to leave Thailand.

In the past six weeks, three other Cambodians, all linked to the dissolved CNRP, have been extradited from Thailand. Other dissidents have been deported in the last few years, including a news fixer who worked on a Russia Today documentary on underage sex trafficking and a Kampong Speu resident who threw a shoe at a CPP billboard in 2017.

Speaking of the recent extraditions, Siripa said some of these cases were because of miscommunication, where Thai immigration officials mixed up people with refugee status with Cambodian workers who had illegally entered the neighboring country.

Rights groups have been critical of Thailand’s decision to extradite Cambodians with refugee status and have said the Thai government should abide by the principle of non-refoulement, where a country should not return refugees and asylum seekers if they face the danger of persecution.

UNHCR did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday. It had criticized the extradition of the three CNRP refugees in late November.

Bet spoke to VOD Friday evening and said he was questioned about how and why he had entered Thailand by Thai authorities. He informed them that he was a forest rights activist and had left Cambodia because he feared being arrested.

The authorities he met told him they were reluctant to arrest a monk, and the Thai Interpol told him there was a complaint from Cambodia that led to his arrest, he said.

“They said they don’t want to arrest us but there is an order from the superior,” he said. 

He did not explicitly say that he wanted to leave Thailand, but said he was not against moving to a third country. He said 10 countries were being considered, including Australia and Switzerland. Though he had been advised by his lawyers to temper his social media activity and criticism of the government, he wanted to continue his activism.

“I will continue my journey. I am still strong and will not back down and will not be afraid of other situations because we are fighters. We have to move forward,” he said.

Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, a Thai human rights defender and director of the Cross Cultural Foundation, said, in brief comments, that she was pleased of the “good political decision” taken by the Thai government to intervene in this case, and hoped it would set a precedent for Thailand to protect refugees and asylum seekers.

Bet previously told Voice of America that he had fled from Cambodia in December 2020 because he feared being defrocked by Cambodian officials. Last year, Khmer Thavrak member Koet Saray was defrocked and convicted for incitement for participating in protests calling for the release of prominent unionist Rong Chhun. Both Saray and Chhun were released last month.

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