«Executive Summary The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected ...»
The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in
practice, the government generally respected religious freedom, although it
restricted the activity of some groups. The government did not demonstrate a trend
toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the
right to religious freedom.
There were some reports of societal abuses based on religious affiliation, belief or practice. In the southernmost border provinces, continued separatist violence contributed to tense relations between ethnic Thai Buddhist and ethnic Malay Muslim communities. While the conflict in the South primarily involves ethnicity and nationalism, the close affiliation between ethnic and religious identity has caused it to take on religious overtones. As a result there were a number of cases in which the violence in the region undermined citizens’ abilities to undertake the full range of their religious activities.
The U.S. government discussed religious freedom with the government, visited religious leaders, hosted interreligious events, and promoted educational exchanges with the United States.
Section I. Religious Demography According to the 2000 census, 94 percent of the population is Buddhist and 5 percent is Muslim. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, and religious groups claim that 85 to 95 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and from 5 to 10 percent is Muslim. Groups that constitute less than 5 percent of the population include animist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, and Taoist populations.
Theravada Buddhism, the dominant religion, is not an exclusive belief system, and most Buddhists also incorporate Brahmin-Hindu and animist practices. The Buddhist clergy (Sangha) consists of two main schools: Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika. The former is older and more prevalent within the monastic community than the latter. The same ecclesiastical hierarchy governs both groups.
International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor THAILAND 2 Islam is the dominant religion in four of the five southernmost provinces. The majority of Muslims in those provinces are ethnic Malay, but the Muslim population nationally also includes descendants of immigrants from South Asia, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, and those who consider themselves ethnic Thai. The Ministry of Interior’s Islamic Affairs Section reported there are 3,722 registered mosques in 68 of the country’s 77 provinces, of which 3,158 are located in the 14 southern provinces. According to the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture, 99 percent of these mosques are associated with the Sunni branch of Islam. Shia mosques make up 1 percentand are in Bangkok and the provinces of Nakhon Sithammarat, Krabi, and Phatthalung. There are 39 Provincial Islamic Committees nationwide.
The majority of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese practice Mahayana or Theravada Buddhism. Many ethnic Chinese, as well as members of the Mien hill tribe, practice forms of Taoism.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom Legal/Policy Framework The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The 2007 constitution protects religious liberty (Constitution Section 37) and states that unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in “religious belief” shall not be permitted (Constitution Section 30). There was no significant pattern of religious discrimination by the government.
There is no state religion; however, Theravada Buddhism receives significant government support, and the 2007 constitution retains the requirement from the previous charter that the monarch be Buddhist. The constitution specifies the state shall “patronize and protect Buddhism as the religion observed by most Thais for a long period of time and other religions, and shall also promote a good understanding and harmony among the followers of all religions as well as encourage the application of religious principles to create virtue and develop the quality of life.” The 2007 constitution generally provides for freedom of speech; however, laws prohibiting speech likely to insult Buddhism and other religions remain in place.
The 1962 Sangha Act (amended in 1992) specifically prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy. Violators of the law could face up to International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor THAILAND 3 one year’s imprisonment or fines of up to 20,000 baht (approximately $645). The 1956 penal code’s sections 206 to 208 (last amended in 1976) prohibit the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religions.
Penalties range from imprisonment of one to seven years or a fine of 2,000 to 14,000 baht ($65 to $452).
There are five officially recognized religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. The RAD is responsible for registering religious groups. Under provisions of the Regulations on Religious Organizations implemented in 1969 and amended in 1982, the RAD recognizes a new religious group if a national census shows that it has at least 5,000 adherents, has a uniquely recognizable theology, and is not politically active. A religious organization must also be accepted into at least one of the five existing recognized religious groups before the RAD will grant registration. Generally, the government requires that new groups receive acceptance from existing groups with similar belief systems.
Government registration confers some benefits, including access to state subsidies, tax exempt status, and preferential allocation of resident visas for organization officials; however, since 1984 the government has not recognized any new religious groups. In practice unregistered religious groups operated freely, and the government’s practice of not recognizing any new religious groups did not restrict their activities.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays:
Maka Bucha Day (the full moon day of the third lunar month, typically in February); Visakha Bucha Day (the full moon day of the sixth lunar month, typically in May); Asalaha Bucha Day (the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, typically in July); and Khao Phan Sa Day (beginning of the Buddhist Lent, typically during the summer).
There were reports of abuses of religious freedom in the country. On April 9, 2009, three mainland Chinese members of Falun Gong were arrested on immigration-related charges at their home in Pattaya one day prior to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit meeting held there. The Special Branch and Immigration Police who conducted the raid confiscated religious materials and a digital camera owned by the occupants. The religious materials were later returned to a Bangkok-based Falun Gong representative. All the detainees were transferred to the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center in April 2009. Two of the detainees were resettled abroad in 2009 and 2010, while International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor THAILAND 4 the third detainee was released on bail in 2011. Pattaya Tourist Police reportedly arrested a group of five Falun Gong practitioners in December for trespass and nuisance while they were distributing leaflets. The five were reportedly released with no further legal action against them.
In March 2009 Nima Kaseng, wife of Imam Yapa Kaseng, filed a civil suit against the Ministry of Defense, the Royal Thai Army, and the Royal Thai Police demanding 15 million baht (approximately $484,000) in compensation after the December 2008 Narathiwat Provincial Court ruled that Imam Yapa was killed in March 2008 while in military custody. On July 20, the three defendants agreed to settle the civil case for 5.2 million baht ($168,000). The Supreme Court of Justice continued to examine the question of military or civilian court jurisdiction over the criminal charges associated with the case. A concurrent administrative investigation with the National Counter Corruption Commission remained pending.
The government does not recognize religious groups other than the five existing registered communities; however, unregistered religious organizations operated freely.
The 2007 constitution requires that the government “patronize and protect Buddhism and other religions.” In accordance with this requirement, the government subsidized activities of all five primary religious communities. The government allocated 3.8 billion baht (approximately $122.6 million) for fiscal year 2011 to support the National Buddhism Bureau, an independent state agency.
The bureau oversees the Buddhist clergy and approves the curriculums of Buddhist teachings for all Buddhist temples and educational institutions. In addition, the bureau sponsored educational and public relations materials on Buddhism as it relates to daily life. During the year the government budgeted 380 million baht ($12.3 million) for the RAD, including 172 million baht ($5.5 million) for Buddhist organizations; 44 million baht ($1.4 million) for Islamic organizations;
and 3 million baht ($97,000) for Christian, Brahmin-Hindu, and Sikh organizations. The RAD fiscal year budget also allocated 74 million baht ($2.4 million) for religious research, children’s centers and activities, and summer camps, as well as 11 million baht ($355,000) for the Religious Promotion Project in the southern border provinces. Pursuant to the Hajj Pilgrimage Promotion Act of 1981 the government budgeted 19 million baht ($613,000) for the year, up from
13.5 million baht ($435,000) the previous two years, to promote and facilitate Thai Muslim participation in the Hajj pilgrimage.
International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor THAILAND 5 In areas of the southern provinces where violence has occurred, the government continued to provide armed escorts for Buddhist monks for their daily rounds to receive alms and during Buddhist festivals. Government troops also continued to station themselves within Buddhist temples, which some NGOs and ethnic Malay Muslims perceived as a militarization of Buddhist temples. Other NGOs viewed the military presence as a response to the prior attacks on Buddhist temples. Some temples declined to have military protection, both to avoid being targeted by militants and also due to the perceived costs, such as higher utility bills and the effort involved in controlling behavior on temple grounds. Many temples therefore preferred to rely on Buddhist volunteers for security.
The budgets for Buddhist and Islamic organizations included funds to support Buddhist and Islamic institutes of higher education, fund religious education programs in public and private schools, provide daily allowances for monks and Muslim clerics who hold administrative and senior ecclesiastical posts, and subsidize travel and health care for monks and Muslim clerics. Also included was an annual budget for the renovation and repair of temples and mosques, the maintenance of historic Buddhist sites, and the daily upkeep of the central mosque in Pattani. The National Buddhism Bureau allocated 423 million baht ($13.6 million) for the maintenance of Buddhist temples and institutions.
Other registered religious groups can request government support for renovation and repair work but do not receive a regular budget to maintain religious buildings, nor do they receive government assistance to support their clergy. During the previous year the RAD budgeted 20 million baht ($645,000) for the restoration of 912 religious buildings of non-Buddhist religious groups. The RAD budget for the maintenance of religious buildings remained unchanged from the previous year.
Private donations to registered religious organizations are tax deductible.
Religious groups proselytized freely. Monks working as dhammaduta (Buddhist missionaries) have long been active, particularly in border areas among the country’s tribal populations. According to the National Buddhism Bureau, there are 4,990 appointed dhammaduta working nationwide. In addition, the government appointed approximately 2,100 dhammaduta for international travel, and 1,383 were overseas working in 27 countries. There are 360 registered Thai Buddhist temples abroad, located in 27 countries. In 2009 the Supreme Sangha Council and the National Buddhism Bureau recruited more than 400 recently graduated monks with religious degrees to work in the provinces on four-year tenured contracts as part of a domestic religious dissemination program. The program continued, with new recruits replacing those who vacated positions.
International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor THAILAND 6 Muslim and Christian missionaries did not receive public funds or state subsidies.
Islamic organizations had small numbers of citizens working as missionaries in the country and abroad. Christian organizations had much larger numbers of missionaries, both foreign and Thai, across all denominations operating in the country. Sikhs and Hindu-Brahmins had smaller numbers reflecting their proportion of the population.
Religious education is required in public schools at both the primary and secondary levels. In 2003 the Ministry of Education introduced a course called “Social, Religion, and Culture Studies,” which students in each grade study for one to two hours each week. The course contains information about all of the recognized religions in the country. Students who wish to pursue in-depth studies of a particular religion may study at a religious school and can transfer credits to the public school. Individual schools, working in conjunction with their local administrative boards, are authorized to arrange additional religious studies courses. The Supreme Sangha Council and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand created special curriculums for Buddhist and Islamic studies.