Further updated: The monk and lese majeste

16 11 2020

Many readers will know that the regime has banned monks from protesting. It did this after increasing numbers of monks were showing up at protests.

As one report has it:

Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism (NOB) ordered Buddhist monks to abstain from participating in anti-government protests, adding to rules prohibiting monks from political activity, Buddhistdoor Global reported. The announcement was prompted by photographs of Buddhist monks at ongoing protests….

The NOB has threatened that monks who continue to participate in the protests could be defrocked.

Clipped from Khaosod

But not many – including PPT – will have heard of a monk who has fled into exile, first in December 2019 until May 2020 and again more recently, fearing a lese majeste charge. The story begins:

Phra Panya Seesun glanced at the police summons that had been delivered to his temple outside Bangkok. Within seconds, he grasped that he was being accused of defaming the powerful monarchy, which can carry up to 15 years in prison. It was the start of a painful process that would see him flee Thailand and seek asylum in an undisclosed country, a rare collision of politics and religion in the Buddhist-majority kingdom.

“They’re trying to put me in jail,” Panya told VICE News from the undisclosed location abroad. “If they don’t shut my mouth, there could be a second, a third, ten, or a thousand monks.”

The monk claims it was his “Facebook posts from last year that first attracted attention from the police.” In these posts he shared information about King Vajiralongkorn’s controlling shareholding in Siam Cement. This was and is public knowledge and available in the SCG’s annual reports. But he also pointed out that “some monks were rising through the ranks because they were affiliated and personally selected by the monarchy,” and he “criticized links between the royals and the military-backed government…”. He was especially “outspoken over the fact that Vajiralongkorn has the authority to appoint the Supreme Patriarch, the top position in the Sangha, or Buddhist clergy. The change was adopted in 2017 to keep rules in line with a ‘long tradition’ where the monarch has been responsible for picking the candidate.”

VICE News says that “Panya’s case is unusual,” but insists that it sighted “the original summons for royal defamation.” However, when the monk “reported to the police station, he was told that the charges had changed to violating the country’s computer crimes act…”.

Panya states that the response from royalists to his posts was rabid as they bombarded “him hate messages and physical threats.” He adds that:

Many of the messages came from hugely popular royalists groups led by Thai celebrities. His name spread rapidly online from page to page. Panya estimates that there could have been thousands of hateful comments directed at him from numerous pages.

The monk is now in limbo and seeking asylum. His situation is uncertain. He says returning to Thailand is too dangerous: “I’ve seen that many people are missing. Some have been abducted, some were killed…”.

Update 1: Related, an article by Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang at New Mandala on monks supporting contemporary protest rallies, is well worth reading. He argues that:

The activism of young monks is impressive. Contrary to the conventional view that monks are detached from worldly sufferance, these progressive monks are aware of the Sangha’s role in upholding the status quo and injustice. They want to reinterpret the role of the Sangha anew to serve the people and be the voice of public morality.

Update 2: Khaosod has now covered this story. It says the monk “left the country a month ago.” He states that his decision to flee was because “he stood little chance to prove his innocence…”. Panya stated:

From what I saw on the news, no one won lese majeste cases, no matter how nonsensical the charges may be…. The rulings were mostly abnormal and the interpretation ever more vague.

He won’t say where he is residing, “citing fears that he could end up like so many other exiles marked as critics of the monarchy who ended up dead or missing.”

Phra Panya “is now trying to travel to Europe and seek political asylum status; he believes he is the first Buddhist monk in political exile in recent history…”.


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