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It’s not a Spaceship. Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Why We Should Care.

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By Ann Norman

The people I respect most in the Thai human rights and prodemocracy movement all tell me that defending Wat Phra Dhammakaya [Phra Dhammakaya Temple] is the most important Thai human rights issue at the moment: That the very independence of Buddhism in Thailand is at stake; that not content with grabbing the reigns of democracy, the junta also needs to grab the reigns of Thailand’s majority religion.

The abbot and the temple have been accused of money laundering, encroachment on park land, and a wide range of building code violations. The fact, that the charges are so random and unrelated, that they seem minor relative to the many obvious crimes in Thailand that are never investigated (including crimes by other prominent monks), and that this most-wanted abbot is so old and sick that he may die before this is ever resolved, makes one instantly suspect the charges are trumped up and politically motivated. Official complaints against the temple are also entangled with religious objections about correct Buddhism because in Thailand state and religion are not entirely separate. Because it is so complicated, I first tried to pass off the job of formulating a response to a Thai colleague. Then last night, I was alerted that the temple was once again surrounded by hundreds of police, while devotees sat in protest to block them if they tried to arrest their abbot. Given Thailand’s history of disastrous responses to unarmed protesting citizens, this is a worrisome situation. If I can’t make a serious effort to understand why the temple is being threatened with military force and under constant siege, how can I ask other Westerners to also care about these Thai human rights issues?

For the non-Thai, audience, it’s best to first address the big elephant in the room: Why is the Phra Dhammakaya temple shaped like a flying saucer? I know it shouldn’t matter, but if we can’t get past jokes about the flying saucer, we aren’t going to be able to help. It turns out, the temple’s website actually has a page addressing this frequently asked question: “[W]hen the Buddha first appointed the shape of all cetiyas, he folded his robes into a square shape and stacked them all together from largest to smallest. He then turned his alms bowl upside down over the folded robes, and said that that is the shape for a stupa-shaped cetiya. . . . [T]he shape [of the temple]. . . is to mirror the same traditional shape given to us by the Lord Buddha, and to symbolise the rising sun, spreading love and kindness, spreading peace to the whole world.”

The temple’s English-language website is neat and clean and addresses the reader in perfect, clear, and familiar-sounding English, as you can read above. This is in fitting with the temple’s modern style which tries to reach a broader audience for Buddhism, using all the advantages of technology such as satellite television and distance learning. It also is heavily involved in academic Buddhism, organizing conferences, and translating and archiving ancient Sanskrit texts in modern searchable formats. It is important to understand that this temple is very international with branches in the United States, Japan, and Taiwan and some of my friends are members. The temple was founded less than 50 years ago as a meditation center (specifically mediation aiming at tranquility of mind), and grew rapidly because of the popularity of its teachings. As of 2006 there were an estimated one million followers worldwide. The acres and acres of devotees you see in the pictures are just there for the day or for a weekend retreat. They are there to learn and practice mediation. They are considered members, but it is what we in the West would consider an informal membership. They are devotees of a particular style of Buddhism. The Temple is controversial for a variety of reasons having to do either with style and emphasis within Buddhism (distinctions that will fail to scandalize the outsider to Buddhism) or practices (such as meditation and honoring of deceased leaders) that can look scary to Western non-Buddhists but occur regularly in the Thai society. None of these aspects can legitimize official harassment of this particular sect of Buddhism. (I should add, even in my Western nonreligious subculture, many are becoming interested in the practice of meditation and mindfulness, and Wat Phra Dhammakaya is interested in teaching these secular foreigners.) But whether we ever decide to get personally involved in this religion or try out its meditation practices, we can all become concerned when a government seems to be harassing a religion on trumped up charges.

It took me all morning to read the long, long story on Wikipedia. In formulating an opinion, I confess my severe limitations and invite correction from Thai experts. However in watching Thailand, I have become familiar with a particular pattern and this story certainly seems to fit that pattern: The powers-that-be perceive some small threat to their power and focus all their energies on discrediting and destroying that enemy using any flimsy excuse.

In 1999, the temple’s Abbot Phra Dhammachayo was charged with fraud and embezzlement for holding donations of land in his name. The temple defended that it was the intention of donors to give the land to the abbot and that it was not against the law for the abbot to own land. The Sangha Council (a religious governing body) around this same time was pressured into also investigating the abbot, but before they could finish their investigations, the secular government’s Ministry of Education went ahead and pressed charges against the abbot over a point of religious doctrine. This led to the temple countersuing the government for malicious prosecution. The Abbot eventually divested himself of the land after much delay and legal maneuvering. Two other charges were also raised, but by 2006, the Attorney General dropped all charges saying that pursuing the case would only create division in society and was not conducive to public benefit.

After the 2014 coup, as part of the various junta initiatives to change society, there was an National Reform Council investigation instigated by the monk Pra Buddha Issra into the assets of the Sangha Council and it was found that the Wat Pra Dhammakaya had received donations that had been embezzled from a credit union. The temple countered that they have no way of knowing whether donations come from embezzlement. Buddha Isra also tried to reopen the 1999 case involving the land once held by the abbot. Buddha Issra had been involved in, and was a cheerleader for the 2014 coup, and is the fascist monk who led a rally outside the US Embassy featuring many nasty, but hilariously misspelled posters, denouncing US Ambassador Glyn Davies. Glyn Davies was vilified on that occasion for expressing US concern about the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by military courts” for lese majesty (insulting royalty). Davies tried to gently point out the irony of a loud noisy protest AGAINST free speech.

Why were all the accusations and investigations into Wat Phra Dhammakaya and its abbot stirred up a second time? It seems that Buddha Issra was out to torpedo the appointment of another monk, Somdet Chuang, as Supreme Patriarch of the Buddhist Sangha—the head of all the monks in Thailand. Somdet Chuang was closely associated with Abbot Phra Dhammachayo (Somdet Chuang had ordained Abbot Phra Dhammachayo). Somdet Chuang had been already been nominated by the Buddhist Sangha (a religious governing body) to be Supreme Patriarch, but the supreme patriarch is formally appointed by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister with the approval of the Supreme Sangha Council. So both the King and the Prime Minister can potentially make, and have in the past made, various excuses to delay an appointment that is not in their interest. It seems that every time a candidate from the larger more popular order is in line for this position, the King or Prime Minister have stalled the appointment, preferring an appointee from a smaller more elite branch of Buddhism arising from a reform of King Mongut in the 1800s. Buddha Issra in fact, campaigned against the appointment of Somdet Chuang at the same time as trying to discredit Abbot Pra Dhammachayo.

The Buddhist Protection Center, a Red Shirt-oriented network, organized a large demonstration of more than 1,000 monks on February 2016 to demand that the junta not get involved in the appointment of the Supreme Patriarch. This issue is one of the very few issues in Thailand over which people seem willing to come out and protest in large crowds despite the junta’s strict rules against political gatherings.

Also, the Phra Dhammakaya temple is just gigantic, and if all the followers do is sit and meditate, and passively resist police orders when the police try to enter the temple, this is scary for the ruling junta. Here is one very visible area where threats of force don’t seem to matter. The groups is willing to commit civil disobedience for the principle that the government should not be harassing their temple or any temple, and it should stay out of religion.

Some propose that a good analogy to the harassment of Wat Phra Dhammakaya is the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice in China. According to Wikipedia, Falun Gong is a “discipline combining slow-moving exercises and meditation with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance” that began in 1992. “Following a period of rapid growth in the 1990s, the Communist Party launched a campaign to ‘eradicate’ Falun Gong on 20 July 1999.” The government may have been frightened by a peaceful demonstration of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners in Beijing. “Falun Gong practitioners in China are reportedly subject to a wide range of human rights abuses: hundreds of thousands are estimated to have been imprisoned extrajudicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities. As of 2009, human rights groups estimated that at least 2,000 Falun Gong practitioners had died as a result of abuse in custody. Some observers put the number much higher, and report that tens of thousands may have been killed to supply China’s organ transplant industry.”

This is almost too horrific to be believed, but looking back at my own experience, I understand how it can go completely under the radar of Western concerns. I confess I already met a large group of Falun Gong human rights protesters outside the UN, when I was there with Thai people protesting dictatorship and lese majesty in Thailand. They wore matching yellow shirts and seemed strangely calm and serene, and performed slow-moving exercises, and tried to give me literature about Falun Gong. I am ashamed to say now, I paid no attention and learned nothing about their cause. I realize now it was my own prejudice against strange-to-me religions that blinded me to the seriousness of their situation.

I warn myself to never so dismissive again as I pick my human rights causes. Let’s keep an eye on the situation at Wat Dhammakaya and stand up for religious freedom and police restraint.

Originally published on Thai Alliance for Human Rights at http://tahr-global.org/?p=32050

Jennifer KitilIt’s not a Spaceship. Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Why We Should Care.
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DSI’s Grand Bargain

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A high profile case has captured much of Thailand as authorities and the massive Dhammakaya temple clash over a case against the temple’s abbot, Venerable Dhammajayo. Dhammakaya is Thailand’s largest Buddhist temple, and its abbot stands accused by the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) of money laundering and receiving stolen money after he received donations that were later linked to an embezzlement scandal. The abbot admits receiving the donations but states he did not know the source, as he received them in the open public.

The accusations against Ven. Dhammajayo, also known as Phrathepyanmahamuni, started when the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) was alleged to have embezzled over 12 billion baht from the credit union, a small portion of that amount was traced to donations made to the temple by the former chairman in the form of checks. The rest of the allegedly embezzled funds were traced to checks issued to several other organizations, including other temples.
When the donations to the temple were found out to be linked to the embezzlement accusations, supporters set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of the funds to the credit union. The credit union subsequently thanked the supporters and dropped all charges. DSI is still pursuing the abbot on criminal charges.

The case intensified when an arrest warrant was issued after the abbot failed to appear for a summons. The temple did, however, send representatives to request that the location of the meeting be moved to the temple’s medical ward due to complications from the abbot’s medical conditions.

Ven. Dhammajayo suffered severe dizziness trying to get up to meet investigators, and the lawyer requested another 30 minutes for him to appear. He later fainted and was unable to make an appearance, prompting DSI to start planning for his possible arrest. The temple responded by filing an appeals to get the arrest warrant rescinded, and by submitting a request by the Medical Council of Thailand to send a specialist to verify the abbot’s condition, as DSI has turned down all requests by the temple to send their own doctor to verify that the abbot is truly ill.

After negotiation, the temple agreed that the abbot would meet with DSI at Khlong Luang Police Station near the temple to hear charges, as doctors warned going to DSI’s office in Bangkok would put the ailing abbot at risk for a fatal pulmonary embolism.

Ven. Dhammajayo suffered severe dizziness trying to get up to meet investigators, and the lawyer requested another 30 minutes for him to appear. He later fainted and was unable to make an appearance, prompting DSI to start planning for his possible arrest.

As the case against Ven. Dhammajayo escalated, DSI held a series of meetings with the appearance of trying to resolve the matter peacefully. On June 2nd, 2016, DSI issued order 531/2559 which requested the the Ecclesiastical Governor of Pathum Thani, the National Office of Buddhism and the legal advisor to the Ecclesiastical Head, Dr. Somsak Toraksa, to meet to help resolve this case. They were ordered to form a committee and given the authority to coordinate the involved parties.

Are they pawns of DSI? L-R: Representative from the National Office of Buddhism; Mr. Somboon Sarasit (Deputy-Director of DSI); Ven. Phrathepratanasutee (Abbot of Wat Kian Khet and Ecclesiastical Head of Pathum Thani); Mr. Somsak Toraksa (advisor to the Ecclesiastical Head)  http://thaisarn.net/single.php?news=57601d370ad1d3f22d2b853a

Are they pawns of DSI? L-R: Representative from the National Office of Buddhism; Mr. Somboon Sarasit (Deputy-Director of DSI); Ven. Phrathepratanasutee (Abbot of Wat Kian Khet and Ecclesiastical Head of Pathum Thani); Mr. Somsak Toraksa (advisor to the Ecclesiastical Head)
http://thaisarn.net/single.php?news=57601d370ad1d3f22d2b853a

The committee met twice, with another meeting set for June 14, 2016. The result was what seemed to be a grand bargain. The deal was that physicians from a government hospital would examine the abbot. If his illnesses are affirmed, DSI would read the abbot his charges at the temple as previously requested and grant him bail. Documents were signed by DSI officials regarding the deal.

However, DSI instead submitted the charges on June 13th, before the next meeting, stating that such negotiations were just an administrative measure. The action by DSI caught everyone by surprise and led to a growing distrust of this department of the Ministry of Justice. Many questioned their tactic and wondered if DSI were using the members of this committee as pawns. Were they merely trying to present the image of impartiality to the public?

Led by monks from Wat Phra Dhammakaya, DSI officers walks through  http://www.matichon.co.th/news/176574

Led by monks from Wat Phra Dhammakaya, DSI officers walks through
http://www.matichon.co.th/news/176574

Followers of Venerable Dhammajayo have made demands for a fair trial in the ongoing case against the abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Devotees of the monk agree he should turn himself in so that the case can continue, but only under fair legal circumstances. Namely, when full democracy is returned to Thailand.
The basis of these demands is that the judicial process cannot proceed fairly and impartially with proper adherence to the judicial rights of the defendant without a free democracy. DSI has 15 years to pursue the legal charges against Venerable Dhammajayo and the current Thai government has stated they will return Thailand to democracy shortly. Supporters believe the current judicial system will not give the abbot a fair trial.

An example the temple cites for this is the case of Buddha Isara of Wat O-­noi, another controversial monk who is facing charges from 2014 for leading blockades to shut down Bangkok and blocking voting booths. Despite an arrest warrant being issued for the incendiary monk, there has been no progress in his charges under the current military government.
The current military government of Thailand took control in 2014 following a coup that ousted then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Elections were previously due in the fall of 2014 but none have taken place. The current Prime Minister cites that the country is not ready for an election and a new charter to return the country to democracy must be approved before any elections are to take place. Unless the latest charter is approved, a new charter will have to be rewritten, thus putting elections out further than what the Prime Minister had promised when he first took power. In the days leading up to the referendum, the Prime Minister has prohibited any open discussion about the charter and its contents.

The current military government of Thailand took control in 2014 following a coup that ousted then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Elections were previously due in the fall of 2014 but none have taken place. The current Prime Minister cites that the country is not ready for an election and a new charter to return the country to democracy must be approved before any elections are to take place. Unless the latest charter is approved, a new charter will have to be rewritten, thus putting elections out further than what the Prime Minister had promised when he first took power. In the days leading up to the referendum, the Prime Minister has prohibited any open discussion about the charter and its contents.

Jennifer KitilDSI’s Grand Bargain
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US Congressman Visits Dhammakaya

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On June 6, 2016, United States Representative Earl Blumenauer for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District visited a Dhammakaya affiliated center, the Oregon Meditation Center in Portland. Members of the center expressed their concerns to the congressman about the current investigation of Ven. Dhammajayo of Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand.

Venerable Dhammajayo is being charged for money laundering and receiving stolen property after donations he received from 2009-2011 were alleged to be linked to an embezzlement scandal. The abbot states he did receive the donations but did not know where they came from as donations made are received in the open public.

Attendees also brought the attention of the White House petition to the Congressman, which has now exceeded its target of 100,000 signatures. The petition was started after the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) was granted an arrest warrant for the abbot after he failed to appear for a summons. The abbot sent representatives to request the location of the hearing be moved to the temple a few days prior to the summons due to complications from his medical conditions. As doctors have stated, travelling to DSI’s office in Bangkok would put him at risk for a fatal pulmonary embolism. DSI refused this request.

“Because DSI has ignored the rights of ill defendants for reasonable accommodation, we believe the DSI has acted unlawfully and in gross violation of patient and human rights.” reads the petition.

A US Army Veteran also shared his struggle with PTSD after being deployed in Afghanistan in a public speech to the Congressman. He discussed how meditation helped him during his treatments and how he founded a group called “Meditation for PTSD Military” to help other veterans with similar problems during the visit.

The United States Congressman has agreed to submit the petition and the details about the case to US Secretary of State John Kerry to look into the actions and methods of DSI.

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Buddhists Launch Social Media Campaign in Support of Dhammakaya Abbot

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Dhammakaya followers have launched a social media campaign in support of the embattled monk, Venerable Dhammajayo, the abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The abbot is accused by the Thai Department of Special Investigations (DSI) of money laundering and receiving stolen goods after he received donations that were later linked to an embezzlement scandal. The abbot admits receiving the donation but states he did not know the source, as he received them in the open public amongst a crowd of donors.

Supporters of the abbot from all over the world launched a campaign on social media to show solidarity with the abbot. The premise of the campaign is that the the abbot is innocent since it is considered inappropriate to question the source of people’s donations, nor is it required by law in Thailand and many other countries to question donations.

The accusations against Venerable Dhammajayo, also known as Phrathepyanmahamuni, started when the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) was alleged to have embezzled over 12 billion baht from the credit union. A portion of that amount was traced to donations made to the temple by the former chairman in the form of checks. The rest of the allegedly embezzled funds were traced to checks issued to several other organizations, including other temples.

When the donations to the temple were found out to be linked to the embezzlement accusations, supporters set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of the funds to the credit union. The credit union subsequently thanked the supporters and dropped all charges. DSI is still pursuing the abbot on criminal charges.

DSI’s continued pursuit of Venerable Dhammajayo sparked a string of worldwide protests over the case, with supporters saying he has been wrongfully accused. The case also prompted a petition to the White House over DSI allegedly handling the investigation unethically.

The case intensified when an arrest warrant was issued after the abbot failed to appear for a summons. The temple did, however, send representatives to request that the location of the meeting be moved to the temple’s medical ward due to complications from the abbot’s medical conditions.

After negotiation, the temple agreed that the abbot would meet with DSI at Klong Luang Police Station near the temple to hear charges, as doctors warned going to DSI’s office in Bangkok would put the ailing abbot at risk for a fatal pulmonary embolism.

Venerable Dhammajayo suffered severe dizziness trying to get up to meet investigators, and the lawyer requested another 30 minutes for him to appear. He later fainted and was unable to make an appearance, prompting DSI to start planning for his possible arrest. The temple responded by filing an appeals to get the arrest warrant rescinded, and by submitting a request by the Medical Council of Thailand to send a specialist to verify the abbot’s condition, as DSI has turned down all requests by the temple to send their own doctor to verify that the abbot is truly ill.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is no stranger to controversy. The temple has been dogged with criticism over the temple’s unorthodox approach to Buddhism for decades. The latest case has served as not just a legal battle, but also as a proxy war among long time Dhammakaya supporters and opponents.

The highly polarizing case has attracted numerous Dhammakaya critics to support the case. Controversial monk and political activist Buddha Issara has repeatedly urged investigators to speed up their pursuit of Venerable Dhammajayo and even called on DSI to impound the temple’s assets. However, the Thai Anti-Money Laundering Office has released a statement affirming this is not legally feasible.

Another famous Dhammakaya critic, Thai university professor Dr. Mano Laohavanich, who is known for his provocative remarks about the temple, has also gone public about the case. Dr. Mano called the abbot a flight risk on Thai television, claiming that the abbot had a “lifetime visa” to the United States. Temple officials denied Dr. Mano’s claim, as the United States does not currently have a lifetime visa and the abbot does not have a passport.

On the other end of the spectrum, the case has caught the attention of not just opponents and followers of Dhammakaya, but other groups as well. A group of 150  from Tambon Klong Sam subdistrict held a “Somtham” (papaya salad) party at one of the temple gates in support of the abbot in the case. While not followers, they stated they support the abbot out of gratitude for the temple’s aid during the 2011 Thai floods.

“We are here because we are thankful for the temple’s help during the 2011 floods,” said villager Wassana Cheeva-osot.

“So, we cannot stand idly by. From what we see in the media, we feel Phra Dhammajayo and his temple are not being treated fairly.”

The villagers also used their own construction equipment to block some gates to the temple to ensure its safety. These have since been removed.

Aside from the global picketing, Dhammakaya followers’ main response to the case has been on social media, with the current campaign focusing on the charge for receiving tainted public donations.

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DSI to Send 2,200 Troops to Arrest Dhammakaya Abbot

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Freedom Watch International releases latest updates on the ongoing case with Venerable Dhammajayo. Venerable Dhammajayo, or Phrathepyanmahamuni–the abbot of the largest temple in Thailand–is in the middle of a highly contested case where he is accused of money laundering and receiving stolen property.

Throughout 2009-2011, Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former Chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC), made donations to the temple in the form of checks and was investigated for alleged embezzlement of funds, in which a portion were traced to his donations to the temple. The abbot states he did not know the source of the donations because they were received openly in public.

Dhammakaya supporters raised the equivalent amount of money for the credit union once it was discovered that the donations were linked to the allegations. The credit union dropped all charges against the temple in response and issued a letter of appreciation to the supporters. Despite this, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) continues to pursue criminal action against Venerable Dhammajayo.

Tension over the contested case heightened on May 17th, 2016 when an arrest warrant was issued after the abbot failed to appear for a summons. The temple did however send representatives to request that the location of the meeting be moved to the temple’s medical ward due to complications from the abbot’s medical conditions. His health condition was confirmed by a panel of doctors. DSI ignored the request and sought an arrest warrant when the abbot failed to appear.

The decision not to question the abbot at the temple sparked protests by Dhammakaya supporters, who have been protesting the case since its inception. One US supporter, who identified as Nora Lawrence, has called DSI’s handling of the investigation a “farce”, and has spoken out about DSI’s refusal to question the ailing abbot at the temple. “I have seen responses from cops, from lawyers, there is no reason DSI can’t question Luang Por (Ven. Dhammajayo) at the Wat (temple). Cops ask questions to suspects in the streets, in their homes, often times in hospitals too. There is no difference between Luang Por’s request and what law enforcements usually do,” Lawrence tells Freedom Watch International.

After DSI received the arrest warrant, which took 5 hours of deliberation before being granted, they declared the abbot had until May 26th, 2016 to turn himself in or face arrest. After negotiation, the temple agreed the abbot would meet DSI at Klong Luang police station on May 26th to hear the charges in an ambulance. In return, DSI would grant the abbot bail. The reason for this was because doctors advised against Venerable Dhammajayo travelling all the way to the DSI office in Bangkok, as travelling such a long distance would put him at risk for a fatal blood clot

Venerable Dhammajayo’s lawyer had stated that the abbot would appear at 2:30 pm to hear the charges. The abbot suffered severe dizziness as he was making his way from his hospital bed to the ambulance, and the lawyer requested another 30 minutes for him to appear. He later fainted trying to travel to the police station and, thus, was unable to make an appearance.

This resulted in a plan to arrest the abbot. Justice Minister Pai­boon Koomchaya revealed that DSI had a careful plan for the abbot’s arrest:

The department will send a letter to the Supreme Sangha Council in an effort to involve the governing monks in resolving the issue. The department will ask the deputy abbot of Dhammakaya to act as an intermediary between DSI and the ailing abbot. DSI plans on cutting off water and electricity to the temple so that followers inside would eventually be forced to vacate. Once a sizable amount of followers leave the temple, DSI has 2,200 police and military personnel ready to enter the temple in search for the abbot.

The Temple spokesperson has stated the followers of the temple currently on the premises are there only to practice meditation. Supporters have stated they stand against the violation of human rights taking place at the temple but will not obstruct any attempt by DSI to arrest the abbot.

A series of other events have occurred since that time. On May 28th, DSI used a drone and police helicopters disguised as a channel 7 chopper to survey routes in and around Dhammakaya Temple as part of the plan to arrest the abbot.

On May 29th, 2016 Weerasak Hadda, Chairman of Tambon Klong Sam Administ­rative Organization invited 150 villagers from his sub-district to a papaya salad party at the entrance to the temple’s main chapel. These supporters say they are not followers but state they stand behind the abbot in gratitude.

“We are here because we are thankful for the temple’s help during the 2011 floods,” said villager Wassana Cheeva-osot. She said the temple provided relief supplies to her village every day until the flood waters receded.

“So, we cannot stand idly by. From what we see in the media, we feel Phra Dhammajayo and his temple are not being treated fairly.”

Locals also brought banners in support of Ven. Dham­ma­jayo and named the foods in support of the abbot. One somtam item was called “Somtam of Gratitude” while a noodle item was nicknamed “Noodle of Temple Love”.

Wassana admitted that villagers who were sympathetic to Dhammajayo parked construction trucks in front of a temple gate to prevent an unwanted third party from entering.

The temple has since filed an appeal for the current arrest warrant to be rescinded and has submitted a request to the Medical Council of Thailand to send doctors to verify Venerable Dhammajayo’s condition.

DSI officials have been running periodic checks on the temple entrances to monitor movement in and out of the temple since May 26th, 2016.

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Supporters Deny Embattled Monk Is A Flight Risk

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Venerable Dhammajayo is now facing imminent arrest after the court issued an arrest warrant on May 18th, 2016. Temple officials representing the embattled Thai monk assert that the monk is not a flight risk and will remain at the temple.

Venerable Dhammajayo, the 72-year-old abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya—Thailand’s largest Buddhist temple—is being accused of money laundering and receiving stolen property. Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former Chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) made donations to the temple in the form of checks, and was investigated for alleged embezzlement of funds, in which a portion were traced to his donations to the temple.

Venerable Dhammajayo’s supporters raised the equivalent amount of money for the credit union once it was discovered that the donation was linked to the allegations. The credit union dropped all civil charges against the temple in response and issued a letter of appreciation to the supporters. Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) continues to pursue criminal action against Venerable Dhammajayo.

Temple officials state the illicit checks were handled by the temple finance department, not the abbot, and that the abbot did not know the source of the checks since they were received in the open public among a crowd of thousands of donors.

The warrant was issued after the abbot failed to appear for a summons on May 16th, 2016. The temple had sent representatives to DSI two days earlier to request a location change from DSI to the temple’s special care unit due to complications from the abbot’s chronic medical illnesses. His condition was confirmed by a panel of doctors, who prescribed him rest and abstention from long-distance travel. The temple also invited DSI to send their own physicians to verify his condition. DSI did not respond to the request and sought an arrest warrant when the abbot failed to appear for the summons.The warrant was granted by the court and DSI gave the ailing abbot until May 26th, 2016 to turn himself in—or face arrest.

On May 22nd, 2016, Wat Phra Dhammakaya responded to DSI’s refusal by allowing members of the media to see the abbot’s condition for themselves from a monitor broadcasting live footage from just outside the abbot’s special care unit. The temple spokesperson held up copies of the day’s newspaper in front of a video camera to affirm the date of the visit and quell any rumors that the temple was releasing previously taken footage.

In addition, the temple brought in medical specialists from Germany to examine his condition. The German specialists released a statement confirming the diagnosis by the panel of Thai doctors previously issued.

The actions of DSI have prompted the supporters to contact numerous human rights organizations about the case. Recently, a petition to the White House was started in an attempt to spread awareness of this case in the United States. Freedom Watch International was also formed as a result of the case, and has made a plea for the Dhammakaya abbot to be treated fairly.

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Buddhists Start “Donations Isn’t Money Laundering” Campaign

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Buddhists in California have started a social media campaign in support of Venerable Dhammajayo, the abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Thailand. The abbot is accused by the Thai Department of Special Investigations of conspiring to launder money and receiving stolen goods after he received donations that were later linked to an embezzlement scandal. The abbot admits receiving the donation but states he did not know the source, as he received them in the open public amongst a crowd of thousands of donors. United States based supporters of the abbot in California kicked off a campaign on social media to show solidarity with the abbot. The premise of the campaign is that the abbot is innocent since it is considered inappropriate to question the source of people’s donations.

Accusations against Venerable Dhammajayo, also known as Phrathepyanmahamuni, started when the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) was alleged to have embezzled over 12 billion baht from the credit union and a portion was traced to donations made to the temple by the former chairman in the form of checks. The rest of the allegedly embezzled funds were traced to checks issued to several other organizations.

When the donations to the temple were found out to be linked to the embezzlement scheme, supporters set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of the funds to the credit union. The credit union subsequently thanked the supporters and dropped all complaints. DSI is still pursuing the abbot on criminal charges

The abbot currently faces imminent arrest, due to not appearing for a summons by DSI on May 16th, 2016. Representatives of the temple had requested a few days earlier for the meeting to be moved to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, due to chronic illnesses confirmed by a panel of doctors. DSI turned down the request and sought an arrest warrant when the abbot failed to appear.

The recent arrest warrant prompted more outcry among supporters, one supporter in the United States started a petition to the White House in response to the decision.

randadminBuddhists Start “Donations Isn’t Money Laundering” Campaign
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Allegations against Buddhist Monk Sparks Protests Across Four Continents

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Allegations against Venerable Dhammajayo, Buddhist monk and the abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the largest Buddhist temple in Thailand, has brought forth a wave of protests from supporters across four continents. Venerable Dhammajayo, also known as Phrathepyanmahamuni, stands accused of money laundering and receiving stolen property by the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI). Seven years ago, he had received donations totaling 684 million Thai baht from Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). Allegations against Wat Phra Dhammakaya arose when it was alleged that Srisupa-aksorn had embezzled more than 12 billion Thai baht from the credit union and some of the checks from this alleged offense had been traced back to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

Supporters of the abbot from around the world protested the charges, they state it is ridiculous to charge somebody for receiving a donation that was later found out to be questionable. They base this on the fact that the temple receives donations in the open public, en masse, among a crowd of thousands of donors. They say doing so would make any non-profit vulnerable to tainted donations and that it is not appropriate for temples to ask donors about the source of their donations

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On May 10th, 2016, Buddhist protesters in Los Angeles, California assembled in front of several news stations and local landmarks to picket what they say are injustices. They were featured on KABC channel 7’s breaking news segment at 11:00 AM. The protesters stated their intention was to raise international awareness of the case and call for fair treatment of Venerable Dhammajayo.

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Since then, Buddhists across the globe have gathered in front of major landmarks to make the case known, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Germany, Thailand, and other major American cities including New York City and Seattle.

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The protesters claim that Ven. Dhammajayo has been wrongly accused, saying that the checks given as donations seven years ago were handled by the temple’s finance department rather than the abbot himself, and that there was no way of knowing the money’s source since the donations were received in the open public. In addition, when devotees of Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made aware that the donations came from embezzled funds, they set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of Srisupa-aksorn’s illegal donations to KCUC. While KCUC initially filed for civil charges against Ven. Dhammajayo, they have since dropped all allegations and issued a letter of appreciation to the temple supporters.

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Despite this, the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has still pursued the abbot, enraging supporters who worked to return the funds to KCUC and those who say the case is groundless. They say that the charges on money laundering have no basis, since the money trail was completely transparent and there was no evidence of any attempt to conceal the “dirty” money associated with the former chairman’s donations. They claim this is evidence the temple did not know the money was embezzled.

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Protesters claim the case isn’t just baseless but absurd. They state that it is ridiculous to charge somebody for receiving a public donation that was later found out to be stolen, saying that if this is the case any temple or non-profit could easily be liable to prosecution or sabotage. The protesters reiterate that the abbot did not know where the money came from and it is not reasonable to charge him or anybody for receiving a publicly given, unsolicited donation.

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The unfair treatment of Ven. Dhammajayo, as the protesters claim, has brought them not just to protest in hopes of raising awareness of the case, but also to submit numerous petitions to various organizations about the issue, including Amnesty International; the governments of Sri Lanka and India; and Thai Consulates in Sweden, India and the United States. Freedom Watch International was also formed in response to the case and has made a plea for justice for the abbot.

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The case hit a boiling point on May 17th, 2016 when DSI was issued a warrant by the court to arrest Ven. Dhammajayo for failing to report for a summons on May 16th, 2016. DSI has since declared that the abbot has until May 26th to turn himself in before they make an arrest. Representatives of the abbot, however, had previously requested on May 14th, 2016 that the meeting be moved to Wat Phra Dhammakaya due to numerous complications from Ven. Dhammajayo’s chronic illnesses that disallowed him to travel, which were supported by a panel of doctors. The temple had offered to allow DSI to send independent doctors to verify his condition and offered to provide transportation to the DSI officials to question Ven. Dhammajayo at the temple on the requested summons date.

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Regardless, DSI did not respond to the request and when Ven. Dhammajayo failed to appear on May 16th they sought an arrest warrant from the court. The recent actions of DSI have sparked greater outcry from Ven. Dhammajayo supporters and protesters of the case. The picketing has however remained peaceful, and there have yet to be any photographic or video evidence of any violent confrontations or outbursts from the protesters of the case thus far.

A Thai news anchor questioned the Deputy-General of DSI on the Thairath TV show “Tam Trong Trong (Direct Questions) with Jomkwan” aired on May 18th, 2016, at 7pm UTC, about sending an independent physician to verify the abbot’s condition, the exchange can be seen below:

Anchor: “Deputy Director, looking at this from the perspective of the [temple] supporters,  they would say they’ve tried to explain, tried to invite officials to verify that the abbot cannot travel. They even want a panel of doctors or a third party to come and verify that the abbot truly cannot travel. Can this still happen prior to the 26th?”

DSI Official: “At this moment, that option has passed. That step would have taken place prior to the approval of the arrest warrant. The court has already issued the arrest warrant.”

Anchor: “Yes.”

DSI Official: “There has to be a suspect, to be frank.”

Anchor: “Let me backtrack a little. I apologize, but I have to ask, “So, before the arrest warrant was issued, why wasn’t a physician or a third party sent to verify that he was ailing and genuinely unable to travel as they have stated ?””

DSI Official: “Uhhh….I wish to decline from answering. As I said, we have already passed that juncture.

The exchange sparked more outcry among many Ven. Dhammajayo supporters who claim the exchange proves DSI has knowingly acted unlawfully.

The most recent actions of DSI has led Ven. Dhammajayo supporters from around the world to pursue another petition, this time with The White House, on May 18th 2016, requesting that the administration condemn the actions of DSI as a human and patient’s rights violation by not allowing for reasonable accommodation for an ill defendant.

randadminAllegations against Buddhist Monk Sparks Protests Across Four Continents
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PLEA FOR FAIR TREATMENT OF PHRATHEPYANMAHAMUNI (LUANGPOR DHAMMAJAYO)

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Ref. 1/2559

May 10, 2016

Until now, Wat Phra Dhammakaya has consistently been abiding by the law, every step of the way. Unfortunately, recently there has been an unjustifiable attempt to link Phrathepyanmahamuni (Luangpor Dhammajayo), Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, to an already trialed court case. The Followers and Supporters of Phrathepyanmahamuni are concerned about the manner of which the investigative officials are handling this matter.

Their bases of concern are:

  1. This is a duplication of a case already trialed. This very same trial case has already been conducted and concluded, and the trial results had already been submitted to the Office of Attorney General. By law, the same trial case that has already been concluded cannot be brought back for retrial. Regardless, later on, the investigative officials took out some portions of the material in the old trial case and built a brand new case with them, claiming that a previous accuser—who was not a damaged party—has returned to make more accusations. Such action is illegal, which makes the actions of the investigative officials in the new case also illegal, and because their actions are illegal the accused is not bound by their orders.
  1. First Summon for Phrathepyanmahamuni. Before the first summon was actually issued to Phrathepyanmahamuni some media had already received the information and broadcast it widely to the public the day before. This is something that should never have happened.
  1. Request for Postponement, Second Summon. At 10 a.m., the morning of April 25, investigative officials permitted Phrathepyanmahamuni to postpone his visit to their office for interrogation because he was unable to travel due to illness, but later on that same afternoon they changed their minds and demanded that Phrathepyanmahamuni report to their office by 4 p.m. the same day, otherwise they would seek a warrant for his immediate arrest. The decision was made without bothering to send a doctor or a specialist to check the condition of the accused to confirm his illness. This is an unjustifiable conduct.

These circumstances have caused concerns and make us lose confidence in the process of justice. We felt compelled to file letters of appeal to Damrongdham Centers throughout Thailand asking for help in order that Phrathepyanmahamuni can receive fair and equitable treatment, and also for Damrongdham Centers to look into the working process of those handling the case.

Please be kindly aware of these facts.

Respectfully yours,

Supporters and Followers of Wat Phra Dhammakaya

Ong-art Dhamnitha, Spokesman

Tel. 089-828-4822

 

Freedom Watch InternationalPLEA FOR FAIR TREATMENT OF PHRATHEPYANMAHAMUNI (LUANGPOR DHAMMAJAYO)
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Protesters in Los Angeles seek justice for Ven. Dhammajayo

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On Tuesday, May 10, Buddhists in Los Angeles, California gathered in front of multiple news stations to protest the injustice in Thailand. They occupied the areas in front of KABC channel 7, KTLA channel 5, and CBS channel 2. These protesters claimed they want to spread awareness about the lawsuit in Thailand concerning Phrathepyanmahamuni (Most Ven. Dhammajayo), the Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Thailand. The rallying received ample media attention, with KABC channel 7 featuring the protest on its breaking news at 11:00 AM.

The protesters say Ven. Dhammajayo has been wrongly accused of money laundering and the receipt of stolen property. Four years ago, he had received a donation of 684 million Thai baht from Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the chairman of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). Allegations against Wat Phra Dhammakaya arose when it was alleged that Srisupa-aksorn had embezzled more than 12 billion Thai baht from the credit union and checks from this offense had been traced back to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.

When devotees of Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made aware of this incident, they set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of Srisupa-aksorn’s illegal donations to KCUC. They feared for the credit union’s cash flow, as it is one of the prominent financial institutions in Thailand. While KCUC initially filed for civil charges against Ven. Dhammajayo, they have since dropped all allegations and even issued a letter of appreciation to the temple supporters for their kindness.

Regardless, protesters claim the abbot has no ties to KCUC and stands wrongly accused of all allegations, since donations were made to him publicly, and there have been no attempts at the concealment of the money trail. There has been no substantial evidence to convict the abbot of any wrongdoing. In addition, all monetary donations are processed by the temple’s financial department, independent of the abbot’s management.

Protesters also argue that this case shows unjust discrimination against Ven. Dhammajayo. In Srisupa-aksorn’s embezzlement, he issued 878 checks to multiple entities. Yet, Ven. Dhammajayo is the sole person being prosecuted against. Aside from Srisupa-aksorn himself, none of the other recipients of the checks have been charged or convicted.

Although KCUC has dropped all charges against Ven. Dhammajayo and Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) is still looking to bring Ven. Dhammajayo to court. A request for an arrest warrant for the abbot in April was denied by the criminal court. A second arrest summons is scheduled for May 16, 2016.

Freedom Watch InternationalProtesters in Los Angeles seek justice for Ven. Dhammajayo
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