Dear Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Russel, State Department,
Hi, I am Ann Norman, Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights. Please be aware that there is an emergency at Wat Prah Dhammakaya in Thailand. The Prime Minister and former coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha is using Article 44 of the Interim Constitution (the Dictator’s Law, by which he gives himself the power to do anything he thinks necessary) to invade this gigantic, very modern, very wealthy Buddhist temple (in a compound of about 1.5 square miles) in order to arrest the temple’s hororary Abbot Phra Dhammachayo and charge him with embezzlement (he accepted a donation that had been embezzled and has since returned it – other more minor charges have been piled on.) The government has mobilized 20 teams of the Department of Special Investigations, 3,600 police officers and 900 soldiers to surround the temple and search it for the abbot, who may or may not be there. The members of the temple (ordinary laypeople who come and go, attending for a weekend or special event and returning home) view this as politically motivated harassment of their religion.
The Thai Alliance for Human Rights considers this huge mobilization just to charge one elderly abbot with a nonviolent crime to be an overreaction that risks a catastrophe. There is no downside to waiting it out. There is no ongoing crime that needs to be stopped. Already, social media shows that one girl was accidentally run over and killed by a huge military vehicle associated with this operation. There have been scuffles between monks and investigative agents and between laypeople and investigative agents. Because this involves religion and people’s fundamental beliefs, some followers claim they are willing to die for the principle that the government should not be interfering with their temple. There is also a widespread fear among members, who have poured their own money into building the temple, that the government will try first discredit the temple and then steal its assets. This fear is reasonable in light of the prosecution of ex-Prime Minister Yingluck for mismanagement of the rice scheme and the use of Article 44 to freeze her assets in connection with that case.
With so much at stake, we have the set-up for potential disaster. As you know, suppression of protests in Thailand often end violently and then no one is ever prosecuted. If anything goes wrong in this operation, the government would once again be absolved, this time by Article 44. We cannot let the rulers of Thailand continue to act with impunity. There has to be more respect for citizens and their rights to differing opinions and types of religion, and a commitment to the rule of law and equal treatment under the law.
Please recommend to the Thai government that they desist with their operation against Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights