Regime, SSC mull 'defrocking court'

PM 'bored' of questions about errant ex-abbot

The government and the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) may consider setting up a "clergy court" to rule whether the former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya will be defrocked.

The idea of the clergy court was earlier floated by Phra Tham Kittimethee, assistant abbot of Wat Rachathiwat in Bangkok.

The monk called on the government and the SSC, the monastic governing body, to establish the court in order to rule whether Phra Dhammajayo had violated the Buddhist disciplinary code of conduct and decide whether he must be defrocked.

The proposition was also backed by Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana, who said it was the proper way to solve the problem.

Pol Lt Col Pongporn Pramsaneh, the newly appointed director of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), said secular judicial procedures would take some time while a clergy investigation would depend on the SSC.

However, he said it was difficult to proceed with the case as authorities have been unable to arrest Phra Dhammajayo yet.

According to the 21st issue of the SSC's regulations, monks can be defrocked under two conditions.

First, a district monk dean can rule that a monk must be defrocked if they have violated the disciplinary code of conduct. Secondly, monks who are not attached to any temple can be defrocked.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the NOB has already submitted Phra Dhammajayo's case to the SSC after the former abbot was stripped of his monastic title earlier.

According to a Royal Gazette article published on Sunday, His Majesty the King agreed to the government's request to demote Phra Dhammajayo for evading charges filed against him.

Gen Prayut said the prosecution of the former abbot was divided into two parts: secular legal procedure and Buddhist measures under the Sangha Act.

Gen Prayut was asked whether the DSI would be replaced by other state agencies as it had failed to arrest Phra Dhammajayo. The prime minister said the media had to look at the root cause of the problem which was that authorities are unable to search the temple.

The operation is opposed by a number of the temple's disciples, he said.

Asked how long it would take to arrest the former abbot and whether more forces would be deployed to the temple, Gen Prayut replied: "I'm bored of answering those questions."

Also yesterday, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) was not convinced by the temple's claim that recently dug trenches and oil tanks around Wat Phra Dhammakaya's compound were meant to provide shade and prevent dust from entering the temple.

Pol Maj Gen Woranan Srilam, DSI spokesman, said yesterday, "Their statement is implausible." The DSI believes that the narrow furrows and 18 oil storage containers are meant to obstruct its officers from entering the temple to search for Phra Dhammajayo.

DSI on Monday sent up a drone to take aerial images around the six-storey Boon Raksa Building at the back of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and found four man-made waterways filled with water surrounding the building, together with oil containers, estimated to have a capacity of 200 litres each. Men in saffron robes holding walkie talkies stationed inside a military tent were staked out along the waterway.

The temple however issued a statement yesterday that the temple did not mean to obstruct the officers. The 200-litre oil containers are empty and the temple put them there to stretch shading fibre to provide shade and protect the compound from dust, the statement said.

The recently dug ditches between Zone A and Zone D of the temple are to prevent "a group of armed strangers" from entering the temple, Wat Phra Dhammakaya said.

Responding to the temple's statement, Pol Maj Gen Woranan said he did not believe it was true. "It is nonsense that the temple claims that the canal is to prevent strangers entering because it is obvious that officers are now in the area."

"In addition, the oil containers are only 100 centimetres tall. They cannot provide shade against sunlight or the people seeking shelter must be very short," he said.

Pol Maj Gen Woranan questioned why there were many people and monks gathering around the Boon Raksa Building. "If there is nothing important there, why do they have to create such a strict safety system," he said.

The Boon Raksa Building belongs to private owners. The DSI yesterday decided to summon the owners to inform them that the area is subject to control by the authorities and they should not have erected any new buildings in the area.

In addition, the DSI will issue summonses for 96 owners of vehicles parked inside the compound so they can move them from the temple area.

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