Thai monks ordered to stay away from pro-democracy rallies

A monk flashes a three-finger salute at an Oct. 18 pro-democracy rally at Asoke Intersection. Photo: Natt Ledger / Courtesy
A monk flashes a three-finger salute at an Oct. 18 pro-democracy rally at Asoke Intersection. Photo: Natt Ledger / Courtesy

It could be the end of protest “carrots” – as monks are called in the pro-democracy movement – after the top religious authority today forbade them from joining rallies.

The government’s National Buddhism Office announced that the Sangha Supreme Council, the top ecclesiastical body, had agreed to order temples nationwide to bar their monks and novices from participating in political activities at risk of unspecified punishment. 

Office Director Narong Songarom, who reports to the embattled prime minister, said both his office and the council had received complaints from people about monks participating in political demonstrations.He said that a few warnings were issued to head monks with little effect. He cited the Sangha Act of 1995, which states that Buddhist monks can’t be involved in politics.

Yet monks have long played a role in popular uprisings, often on the front lines of civil disobedience. The pro-establishment street protests which ushered in the 2014 coup were in part led by a firebrand monk later jailed and defrocked for fraud.

People have called the ban a double-standard in violation of monks’ human rights.

“#SanghaReformPlease monks are also human, so why restrict their freedom?” Koson Udomsin wrote. “Monks especially should help cultivate political and social reforms.”

Monks are detained by soldiers on May 19, 2010, during a crackdown on street protests in Bangkok.
Monks are detained by soldiers on May 19, 2010, during a crackdown on street protests in Bangkok.

“Well, you didn’t say anything when it came to Buddha Issara,” Permwit Promtavepong wrote, referring to Suwit Thongpasert, the confrontational and antagonistic leader of the 2013-2014 street protests. He led crowds to occupy government agencies and extort money from at least one hotel. He was defrocked two years ago.

“I don’t want monks to join the youth protests, but I have to admit that I feel very sorry that the Sangha Supreme Council is being so biased,” Roongrat T Boonpoodpong commented. “Buddha Issara has acted a lot worse. Can’t find the good in Thai Buddhism anymore.”

A rally has been called for 2pm on Saturday by education reform group Bad Student at the Education Ministry. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated that Saturday’s Bad Student rally was the next mass rally set for Bangkok.

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