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The Thai Alliance for Human Rights begs the Thai goverment: Please consider the innocent lives at Wat Phra Dhammakaya!

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With regard to the standoff at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights repeats its statement that the siege of the temple using 4,000 military, police, and investigative officers is a dangerous overreaction. The stated goal is to charge one person, the honorary Abbot, with embezzlement and money laundering. This is a nonviolent crime and the money has already been returned. At the time of our first statement, one person had already died: a girl accidentally run over by a military vehicle. Now two more have died as a result of the standoff – one person near the temple hung himself in protest of Prayut’s use of Article 44 to siege the temple; and one woman, a layperson protesting within the temple, had an asthma attack, and because of the checkpoints, medical personnel could not reach her in time. So three have died despite the fact that officers carry no lethal weapons and have acted with restraint and the monks and laypeople also have vowed to be peaceful. Again, it is almost inevitable that an operation of this magnitude will have collateral damage (unintended damage to innocent people not the target of the operation). Is it really worth the Thai authorities’s dedicated resources so far? Add to this, the fact that the tens of thousands of temple members currently can’t use the beautiful temple they built with their own funds to practice their preferred brand of Buddhism. And the livelihoods of those living and working in the area suffer because they can’t get to work. The Abbot has almost certainly already escaped, so what is the point of continuing to surround the temple? Who is being punished now? It is not the abbot, but all the tens of thousands of temple members. It appears to be the harassment of a religion that is unpopular with many, including and especially those now in power.

People ask why the Abbot doesn’t turn himself in and avoid all this mess, and why he has his tens of thousands of supporters defend him. I don’t know why because this is not my temple and not my religion. But these are foundational beliefs and matters of identity for tens of thousands. It is a mistake for the government to be threatening, or to appear to be threatening, a huge religious group. It is playing with fire.

On the other hand, maybe I do understand the resistance. There has been so much blatant unfairness under this junta government. A temple is sieged with 4,000 officers to catch one man who MIGHT have embezzled, while blatant nepotism in the Chan-o-cha family is excused. When the rules say that a monk considered friendly to Wat Phra Dhammakaya is to be the next Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism, the junta government changes those rules, overriding the highest religious body, to appoint its own preferred Supreme Patriarch. The government brings seemingly frivolous charges against the former Prime Minister, Miss Yingluck Shinnawatra, and uses article 44 to freeze her assets. Many fear that the hunt for the Abbot is a pretext, and the ultimate goal is crushing and stealing the wealth of Wat Phra Dhammakaya. I know plenty of people who, when faced with summons from this junta government, fled the country. They had no faith that they would receive justice, and I can’t blame them. It is perhaps for similar reasons that Abbot is in hiding and that many (but not all) temple members appear to be OK with that.

If the government wants to build legitimacy and achieve reconciliation, it has to treat all groups equally. It can’t appear to be favoring one group of Buddhists and yet persecuting another. It can’t take its frustrations with one monk out on tens of thousands of laypeople. The Abbot has now been stripped of his rank by the new King. When and if he is found, he can have his day in court. But please show fairness by letting the laypeople go back to practicing their religion. And importantly, the government must vow that it will not use Article 44 to steal from the temple.

I keep hearing that this is about the rule of law, that all must see that no one is above the law. But if that is supposed to be the lesson, stop using Article 44! The application of ordinary laws would never have resulted in this huge siege with so many innocent bystanders affected. We are begging the Thai government to please consider the innocent lives, back away from this dangerous game, and create the conditions for the reconciliation of the groups in society which are currently so suspicious of each other.

Ann Norman, Executive Director
Thai Alliance for Human Rights
ภาคีไทยเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน

Originally posted on http://tahr-global.org/?p=32225

Jennifer KitilThe Thai Alliance for Human Rights begs the Thai goverment: Please consider the innocent lives at Wat Phra Dhammakaya!
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PLEASE WATCH WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW AT WAT PHRA DHAMMAKAYA!!! Invasion in progress

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PLEASE WATCH WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW AT WAT PHRA DHAMMAKAYA!!! Invasion in progress

Post from the Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights

Ann Norman blogging

So Prayut is seriously going to go to war with a gigantic temple of laypeople vowing to give up their lives for their abbot – so they can charge him with embezzlement? Of money that has already been returned? Why doesn’t the abbot just give himself up? Good question at this point, but a missing piece of the puzzle is that according to Thai law you can’t jail a monk without first defrocking him. So even if they decide to hold him until trial, he will be defrocked. This explains the big tug of war over whether he could be charged inside the temple. He was sure if he came out of the temple, he would be defrocked and he is reportedly very sick and wanted to die as a monk. So the followers view the charges and the current invasion as a way to harass and discredit their temple without even having to prove any wrongdoing and then they assume the government will probably steal their assets. This is why they are saying they are willing to die as human shields.

The government’s action is way out of proportion to the problem. It is reckless. As we already mentioned, according to pictures on social media, one girl was already accidentally run over by a military truck in this operation. Prayut by invoking Article 44 and invading a gigantic temple of devoted laypeople is risking catastrophe.

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Jennifer KitilPLEASE WATCH WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW AT WAT PHRA DHAMMAKAYA!!! Invasion in progress
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Thai Alliance for Human Rights letter to US State Department about Crisis at Wat Phra Dhammakaya

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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.

Thank you,

Ann Norman
Executive Director of the Thai Alliance for Human Rights
ภาคีไทยเพื่อสิทธิมนุษยชน
Website: http://tahr-global.org/
Email: ann.norman@tahr-global.org

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Jennifer KitilThai Alliance for Human Rights letter to US State Department about Crisis at Wat Phra Dhammakaya
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A Response to the We the People Petition

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On August 5th, 2016, the US Government delivered a response to a We the People petition started on May 18th, 2016 regarding the unjust case being brought against Most Venerable Dhammajayo, a Buddhist monk and abbot of the largest Buddhist temple in Thailand, the Dhammakaya Temple. Here is an excerpt:

The President has made clear that our nation’s commitment to respecting and promoting human rights does not stop on our shores. In an address to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations earlier this year, the President stressed the importance of this fundamental principle:

“The United States will continue to stand with those across Southeast Asia who are working to advance rule of law, good governance, accountable institutions and the universal human rights of all people.

Across the region, we’ll continue to stand with citizens and civil society and defend their freedom of speech, of assembly and of the press. No one, including those in political opposition, should ever be detained or imprisoned simply for speaking their mind. That only stymies progress, only makes it harder for countries to truly thrive and prosper.”

The State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok continue to promote freedom of religion or belief throughout Thailand and emphasize the importance of respecting the human rights of all persons. The State Department is aware of this matter and is following its developments. We cannot, however, comment here on the specific ongoing matter raised in your petition.

To see the full statement, click here.

Jennifer KitilA Response to the We the People Petition
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Safety Measures Heightened at Thailand’s Largest Temple

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The World Theravada Buddhist Sangha Council (WTBSC) has called on Thailand’s prime minister, Mr. Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, to find a peaceful way to resolve the ongoing case against Venerable Dhammajayo and to bring attention to the Thai Department of Special Investigation’s (DSI) unethical methods in the pursuit of Venerable Dhammajayo.

DSI currently has an arrest warrant for Venerable Dhammajayo for missing a summons. The abbot had previously sent representatives to request that the location of the meeting be moved to the temple’s medical ward due to complications from his medical conditions. His ailing health was confirmed by a panel of doctors and a medical certificate. DSI had launched an investigation into the validity of the medical certificate earlier.

WTBSC also states that since the case lacks solid evidence, they fear the abbot is being unjustly maligned and defamed in the case. WTBSC has also urged the Prime Minister to look into DSI’s actions in seeking an arrest warrant, since the abbot had medical reasons for asking for the location to be changed. It is suspect that they didn’t allow the request.

Read the full letter here.

Supporters have stated that other organizations based in Korea and Japan have sent in similar letters to Mr. Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, pleading for his help in ensuring that the case proceeds justly. These organizations include Theravada Sangha Senate of Korea; We Love Peace Association of Saitama, Japan; and the Thai-Japanese Relations Association of Tokyo, Japan, amongst others.

Amid allegations, temple representatives also announced at the same press conference that Venerable Dhammajayo is a recipient of the 2016 Symbol Peace Award from the International Buddha Education Institute and YSSSRF.

DSI has stated it has planned to mobilize 2,200 troops to arrest the ailing abbot at Wat Phra Dhammakaya. The standoff threatens to put many people’s lives at risk and cause possible damage to temple property. The temple has increased security measures but has stated it is to prevent disturbances from a third party who may want to vandalize the temple. The temple’s security measures include keeping only the most important entrances open. There was barbed wire found near temple walls, which officials state were installed by supporters for temple safety. Heavy equipment vehicles were removed as the situation has calmed down; however, the equipment does not belong to the temple but was put there and owned by concerned locals.

randadminSafety Measures Heightened at Thailand’s Largest Temple
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Plea for Justice

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Abbot Dhammajayo Denies All DSI Allegations

We wish to draw your urgent attention to the allegations made by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) against the Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, Phra Dhammajayo, that he conspired to launder money and receive stolen property. These allegations have been vigorously denied by Phra Dhammajayo, who states that there is no evidence to support these charges and questions the motivation behind this action.

The basis for these allegations is that Mr. Supachai Srisupa-aksorn made monetary donations to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, while he was acting as Chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). Mr. Supachai was subsequently charged with the embezzlement of Credit Union funds, however there is no connection between the unsolicited donations which Mr. Supachai made to Wat Phra Dhammakaya and his alleged criminal actions.

Two lawsuits have been filed by the DSI against Mr. Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, alleging theft and money laundering (cases146/2556 & 63/2557). A third charge of conspiring to commit fraud against the public (case 27/2559) duplicates previous charges which are still under consideration, and thus contravenes Thai law that states, “One count of charge cannot be duplicated.”

The donation to the temple, amounting to 684,784,000 baht, was used to construct buildings and facilities for the benefit of the general public. While it constituted a substantial sum, there are donors who have donated greater sums to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, and it is considered inappropriate to question the source of these donations.

When the circumstances behind the donation from Mr. Supachai Srisupa-aksorn were made known to Wat Phra Dhammakaya, followers of the temple voluntarily raised the sum of 684,784,000 baht to assist the members of KCUC, who issued a letter of appreciation and withdrew all lawsuits against the Abbot and the temple. Mr. Supachai has also released a statement indicating that the money he borrowed from the credit union to make donations to Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Phra Dhammajayo have already been repaid to the credit union in full.

To accuse Phra Dhammajayo of misusing temple funds is a total denial of his dedication to the cause of Buddhism. Since founding Wat Phra Dhammakaya in 1970, the Abbot and his supporters have worked tirelessly to create the largest Buddhist temple in Thailand, with more than three million devotees and over 4,000 monks and novices. He has helped to propagate the message of Buddhism throughout the world, with more than 80 Dhammakaya Meditation Centres in 30 countries.

The charges by the DSI against Phra Dhammajayo are baseless and deny him his basic Human Rights. They choose to ignore the facts about the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) case, and offer no consideration about the ailing health of the Abbot and the tireless work which he has performed for 47 years to support Buddhist monks and temples throughout Thailand.

We would be most grateful if you would kindly send a letter of protest to the Prime Minister of Thailand and his government to stop their actions against this innocent, aging monk.

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Aimee LuongoPlea for Justice
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