Police need to chill out
Re: "Masked monks in clash with DSI as tempers flare", (BP, Feb 21).
The ongoing raid at Wat Phra Dhammakaya reflects badly on us as a Buddhist nation. Since the abbot Phra Dhammajayo cannot be located in the temple's compound after five days of searching and scuffling, I urge authorities to back down, and let cooler heads prevail. If the authorities claim this is about upholding the law and bringing the abbot to justice, then they must deal with it using legal means and without the use of force, no matter how many years it will take.
Foreign nations will no longer remember us as the "land of smiles", but "the land of police and military officers wrestling with monks", leaving Thailand lacking in credibility. It is not too late. By backing down, the authorities will actually be seen as reasonable, sincere, and legitimate. Please Gen Prayut, call off this raid -- at least for your political capital's sake, and focus on more urgent tasks this country needs such as strengthening the economy.
End the standoff
The events at Wat Phra Dhammakaya are causing a certain amount of confusion and misrepresentation in the media. The action revolves around legal investigations concerning the temple's former abbot Phra Dhammajayo who is wanted for money laundering, forest encroachment in connection with his meditation centres in several provinces and receiving stolen assets in connection with the multi-billion-baht embezzlement at Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). The authorities want to apprehend him in order to further their investigations but are being hampered by supporters, both enrobed monks and lay people, who have formed human chains around the compound, to prevent the former abbot from being taken into custody, stating, erroneously, that the authorities are attempting to destroy Buddhism and defrock all the monks belonging to the sect.
Mindful of the sensitivities regarding a well-supported -- particularly by wealthy patrons -- religious temple and movement, the authorities, led by the Department of Special Investigation and assisted by the army, who are maintaining a perimeter, are taking a very low-key approach to what is becoming a very tense situation. Instructions have been given to law enforcement officers to strictly follow the letter of the law and to explain, both verbally and through the use of written material, exactly what they are intending to do and its strict compliance with the law.
Nonetheless, some masked supporters have resorted to violence in order to stop law enforcement being carried out, with both police officers and reporters being attacked and equipment damaged. The supporters are also resorting to spreading falsehoods on social media to drum up a further half-a-million people to provide extra support and to swell the numbers besieging themselves inside the 2,300-rai compound, by stating things like the government want to seize tonnes of gold, in the form of statues of the Lord Buddha, in order to pay off government debts.
What may seem strange to many people is that this temple possesses a huge amount of assets, in terms of several hundred billion baht, claimed to have been received from temple devotees in good faith.
The key item of interest being that the "Master Nun Chandra Khonnokyoong 100th building" cost more than 3 billion baht for its construction, with almost a quarter of this amount allegedly paid for with a cheque from KCUC former president Supachai Srisupa-aksorn who was prosecuted in a 12-billion-baht embezzlement case last year.
A deadline of 3pm on Feb 19 to vacate the area by supporters passed without any action and legal authorities have now pulled back to the perimeter formed to prevent any outside supporters from joining those already inside, as they consider their next move. The difficult balance is how to bring the influential figures inside to justice without exemption but at the same time avoiding confrontation with mass supporters. Whilst mindful of the possible pitfalls involved in such a sensitive area, the Thai authorities need to pursue the upholding of justice and be seen to be doing so; by allowing this stand-off to continue it is undermining the public's confidence in the abilities of law enforcement.
Devawongse Varopakarn Institute of Foreign Affairs
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