Thai Buddhists seek blasphemy law to punish offences against their faith
The leading role monks played in the September protests against Myanmar’s military rulers has put the spotlight on the politically active side of Buddhism.
Next door in Thailand, this activism takes a quite different form. Buddhist groups there tried in vain earlier this year to have Buddhism declared the country’s official religion in its new post-coup constitution.
In April, they converged on parliament in Bangkok — some riding into the city on elephants — to highlight their demand.
Even though 95 percent of Thais are Buddhists, the drafting assembly rejected the idea.
In an unusual step, Queen Sirikit said in a speech marking her 75th birthday in August that religion should be separate from politics. Given the deep respect Thais have for their monarchy, that put an end to the campaign.
The drive to give Buddhism official status has come back in another guise. As the Bangkok Post reports, 179 members of the 250-seat National Legislative Assembly have backed a bill to make offences to Buddhism a crime punishable by stiff penalties. The report said:
The bill sets a jail term of 10-25 years and/or a fine of 500,000-1,000,000 baht for insulting, offending, imitating and distorting Buddhism and the Lord Buddha and a jail term of 5-10 years and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 baht for damaging Buddhist objects, personnel and places.
People who have any form of sexual affair with monks, novices and nuns are liable to five to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 baht.
However, the bill does not include any punishments for monks, novices and nuns who engage in sexual relations … Punishment for physically assaulting monks, novices and nuns would be three times those stipulated by law.
(100,000 baht = $3,180 )
The issue of blasphemy played a central role in the violent protests in Muslim countries last year against the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistan is regularly criticised by the United Nations and groups supporting religious freedom for its blasphemy law that critics say is used to oppress non-conformist Muslims (such as Ahmedis) and religious minorities such as Christians.
Does bringing in a blasphemy law to protect Buddhism sound like a good idea to you?