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 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.
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.
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.
There are four types of educational institutions in Southern Thailand. The first is government-sponsored schools. This type of schooling offers Islamic education in conjunction with the national curriculum. The language of instruction is Thai and there are approximately 190 schools in this category. The government recognizes these schools, supports them financially, and graduating students can continue to higher education within the country.
The second type is private Islamic schools. There are approximately109 schools in this category. In 2003 the government authorized these schools to adopt a government-approved Islamic studies curriculum. Some private Islamic schools may offer non- Qur’anic subjects such as science and math, as well as the teaching of foreign languages (Arabic and English). These schools are usually registered with the government. Students finishing their studies under this curriculum receive government certification and are eligible to pursue higher education.
Traditional pondoks (private Islamic day schools) offer Islamic education to students of all ages. Each school chooses its own curriculum, which has traditionally been built around the teacher, often the local imam or founder. The language of instruction at many pondoks is Malay. Many of these schools are not registered with the government. Since they are unregistered, the exact number of traditional pondoks in the country is unknown. Estimates range from 328-1,000. Students graduating from pondoks which choose to register with the government do not receive automatic government certification of their studies. They are, however, able to take a compatibility exam that compares their knowledge to the government-approved Islamic Studies curriculum. Those who pass this exam receive government certification.
A tadika is an after-school religious course for children in grades one through six, which often is held in a mosque. The RAD is responsible for overseeing the program, except in the southernmost provinces of Satun, Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla, where the courses are supervised by the Ministry of Education.
The number of foreign missionaries registered with the government was limited to an official quota established by the RAD in 1982. The quota system is organized along both religious and denominational lines. The RAD increased the missionary quota for a few religions in recent years. There were close to 1,600 registered foreign missionaries in the country, mostly Christian. In addition to these formal quotas, many unregistered missionaries were able to live and work in the country without government interference. While registration conferred some benefits, such as visas with longer validity, being unregistered was not a significant barrier to foreign missionary activity. Many foreign missionaries entered the country using tourist visas and proselytized without RAD’s authorization. There were no reports that foreign missionaries were deported or harassed for working without registration.
Muslim professors and clerics, particularly in the southernmost provinces, continued to face additional scrutiny because of continuing government concern about Malay Muslim separatist activities. While this usually did not appear to inhibit their religious activities, government officials continued to be concerned that some Islamic schools were used to indoctrinate youth into the conflict. Conversely, some reports concluded that southern insurgents targeted state schools and teachers because they perceived them to be part of an effort to impose Thai Buddhist culture on the region.