Protesters at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park held banners and portraits of three monks – one of whom was released – who, their supporters say, were arrested and tortured, by Vietnamese police on May 21 in an area of southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer empire and is referred to by some as Kampuchea Krom.

“We need freedom to live, like Vietnamese people and other nations on the world,” Thach Setha, Executive Director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community said at the rally. “Living without freedom is meaningless.”

On May 21, Kleang provincial police forces in Vietnam surrounded the Prey Chhop and Serei Tasek pagodas, arresting five monks and two members of the pagodas for allegedly associating with foreign Khmer Krom Associations. All were released, except monks Liv Ny and Thach Thoeun.

“Police forces defrocked the monks and put them in rice sacks and then loaded on a truck,” a petition the group handed over to a Phnom Penh Municipal Hall employee for delivery to the Vietnamese embassy says. “Monk Ly Chenda who was freed lost memory . . . we suspect that he was punished with drugs that cause him lose memory.”

Signs held by demonstrators bore slogans including “Vietnam has to show respect toward Kampuchea Krom indigenous people” and “Vietnam authorities have to stop threatening Kampuchea Krom monks and people.”

We are ready to sacrifice our lives for protecting our religion and race,” venerable Seang Sovannara, 38, shouted to the crowd through a microphone.

Ket Che, administrative director of Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, said the group’s petition will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will then forward the document to the Vietnamese embassy.

The Vietnamese embassy could not be reached for comment.

By Phak Seangly - The Phnom Penh Post - 26 June 2013