• About 300 monks, above, stage a protest at Dhammakaya Temple calling on the government to stop exercising power under Article 44 of the interim charter in dealing with the temple.
  • A sign is put up by Dhammakaya supporters inside the temple

PM insists on Article 44

politics February 27, 2017 01:00

By THE NATION

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Minister voices concern about faith-based abuses causing misunderstanding after suicide near temple.



PRIME Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha expressed his condolences yesterday over the death of a 64-year-old man who hanged himself near Dhammakaya Temple. But the PM insisted that Article 44 needed to be used to maintain control at the temple – as the task was “beyond the power” of ordinary laws.

 “I’m saddened by the death but the order is necessary to curb bad people who can’t be dealt with via normal laws. Many may see the order as not being effective. Or maybe that the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) is not trustworthy or unable to control the situation,” Prayut said.

  His comments came after Anawat Thanacharernnut hung himself from a high-rise radio antenna in an apparent protest against the siege at the controversial temple.

Many expressed deep sorrow over the death of Anawat on Saturday. The man climbed up the tower and threatened to commit suicide if the order relating to the temple wasn’t revoked by 9pm.

Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana also sent his condolences to the family of Anawat. 

“No one likes to see this tragic outcome. The government has done the most to avoid violence and a loss of lives so the Dhammakaya Temple should review its position and cooperate with authorities to ensure the justice process is working,” he said.

The ongoing siege at the temple in Pathum Thani stems from criminal embezzlement cases involving five suspects, three of whom have been prosecuted while two suspects remain at large, Suwaphan said. One of the two was Dhammachayo, the former abbot, who has been charged with receiving huge sums from the former head of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative. 

More than 50,000 credit union customers were among the victims of the financial crime, many of them former civil servants and salary earners who lost their life savings.

Suwaphan said the case had hurt the image of Thai savings institutions and financial cooperatives.

The government needed to enforce the law and bring all suspects to justice, the minister said, adding that the accused suspects should surrender and defend their innocence in court rather than resorting to other means.

Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prayut had also sent his condolences to the family of Annawat, but the government wanted all parties concerned, especially supporters of Dhammakaya Temple, to exercise caution to avoid further abuses of religion leading to misunderstanding.

Sansern also said authorities needed to enforce the law and suspects should enter the justice process instead trying to evade the authorities. 

Prayut, in his capacity as head of the National Council for Peace and Order, issued an order removing Panom Sornsilp as director of the National Office of Buddhism while naming Pol Colonel Pongporn Bharmsaneh as the new chief and tasking him with tackling issues facing the faith.

To minimise impacts regarding the ongoing siege at the temple, Suwaphan said a panel of nine monks from Pathum Thani province would work with authorities to help to look after the well-being of Dhammakaya monks and ensure all monks at the temple had enough food since authorities had no intention of preventing the monks from taking alms from Buddhists.

Earlier yesterday, monks and other supporters inside the sprawling temple compound put up a big banner on a high-rise tower saying “We need food”. 

Suwaphan said authorities would harshly deal with anyone obstructing the justice process and attempting to incite the public to protest and block officials from doing their duty.

Phra Sanidwong, communication director at Dhammakaya, said the government needed to exercise the rule of law in its handling of this controversial case while suggesting that Annawat, who hanged himself from the radio antenna near the temple’s compound, was not affiliated with the temple.

Results of an autopsy are expected in one to two weeks.

Rattanun, 31, Annawat’s son, yesterday went to the Police Hospital to pick up his father’s body but declined to talk to reporters. Annawat had lived at the KC Garden housing estate in Pathum Thani province. His former neighbour said he was an ex-civil servant and a religious person who often made merit.

The Department of Special Investigation has also sent condolences to Annawat’s family while saying officials had been cautious in exercising their power so as to prevent injuries and loss of life.