There were reports of abuses of religious freedom in the country. Pattaya Tourist Police reportedly arrested a group of five Falun Gong practitioners in December 2011 for trespass and nuisance while they were distributing leaflets. The five were reportedly released, with no new information of further legal action against them in 2012. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) denied Falun Gong representatives’ request to register officially as a foundation or association. Falun Gong leaders petitioned the Administrative Court to reverse the denial, but the court concurred with the MOI. The ruling was appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court and remained pending at year’s end.
In March 2009 Nima Kaseng, wife of Imam Yapa Kaseng, filed a civil suit against the Ministry of Defense, the army, and the police demanding 12,285,530 baht (approximately $410,000) in compensation after the December 2008 Narathiwat Provincial Court ruled that Imam Yapa was killed in March 2008 while in military custody. The three defendants agreed to settle the civil case for 5.2 million baht ($173,000) in July 2011. The Supreme Court of Justice closed its inquiry into the question of military or civilian court jurisdiction over criminal charges when the lower court that originally denied civilian jurisdiction did not certify the associated petition. The military court criminal case remained inactive pending the concurrent administrative investigation by the National Counter Corruption Commission, which reported no progress in 2012.
During the year, the government instituted several compensation programs for victims of southern violence with payments up to 7.5 million baht (approximately $250,000).
The government did not recognize religious groups other than the five existing registered communities; however, unregistered religious organizations operated freely.
The 2007 constitution required 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 4.3 billion baht (approximately $143 million) for fiscal year 2012 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 365 million baht ($12.2 million) for the RAD, including 190 million baht ($6.3 million) for Buddhist organizations; 36 million baht ($1.2 million) for Islamic organizations; and 2.1 million baht ($70,000) for Christian, Brahmin-Hindu, and Sikh organizations. The RAD fiscal year budget also allocated 28.5 million baht ($950,000) for religious lectures, 96 million baht ($3.2 million) for Buddhist Sunday school, 12 million baht ($400,000) for Islamic study centers, 7.5 million baht ($250,000) for religious activities for persons with disabilities, and 4.6 million baht ($153,000) for interfaith events. Pursuant to the Hajj Pilgrimage Promotion Act of 1981, the government budgeted 16.1 million baht ($537,000) for the year, down from 19 million baht ($613,000) the previous year, to promote and facilitate 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 militants targeting them and 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, to fund religious education programs in public and private schools, to provide daily allowances for monks and Muslim clerics who hold administrative and senior ecclesiastical posts, and to subsidize travel and health care for monks and Muslim clerics. They also included 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 392 million baht ($13.1 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 year the RAD budgeted 20 million baht ($667,000) for the restoration of 891 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 generally proselytized freely. Monks working as dhammaduta (Buddhist missionaries) were active, particularly in border areas among the country’s tribal populations. According to the National Buddhism Bureau, there were 5,391 appointed dhammaduta working nationwide. In addition, the government appointed approximately 2,100 dhammaduta for international travel, and 1,481 were overseas working in 37 countries. There were 369 registered Thai Buddhist temples abroad, located in 32 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, but recruitment of monks to fill new vacancies was suspended in 2012.
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.
In 1982 the RAD limited the number of foreign missionaries registered with the government to an official quota organized along both religious and denominational lines. The RAD increased the missionary quota for a few religious groups 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 lived and worked 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 the government deported or harassed foreign missionaries for working without registration.
Muslim professors and clerics, particularly in the southernmost provinces, faced 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 indoctrinated 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 (see Section III, below, which notes violence against school personnel).
A clause in the 2007 constitution required the government to “promote good understanding and harmony among followers of all religions.” In accordance with this clause, the government sponsored interfaith dialogue through regular meetings and public education programs. The RAD carried out and oversaw many of these efforts. On August 25-26, the RAD held its annual interfaith assembly in Chiang Rai, and approximately 1,000 representatives and members of all registered religious groups participated. The RAD, in conjunction with provincial authorities, also sponsored Youth Reconciliation Camps in 62 provinces throughout the country. Each event lasted two to three days and drew at least 100 participants from all major religious groups in each province, mostly students in grades 10-12. The goals of the camps were to create and strengthen mutual religious understanding through activities, games, religious classes, and interaction. The camp in the southern province of Songkhla drew approximately 300 participants.