BANGKOK – Phra Apichart Punnajanto, head of monk preachers at the prestigious Wat Benchamabopit (the Marble Temple) has been forced to shut down his Facebook account after he posted a call to “burn down a mosques” after the killing of a monk in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim south.
Phra Apichart Punnajanto, suspended his account at midday Thursday under pressure from Buddhist and Junta authorities.
“I received notification from the Supreme Sangha Council [the Buddhist institution in Thailand] and I was visited by military security officers over the last two days, who asked me to be careful about expressing my opinions about the deaths of Buddhist monks and laymen in the south,” wrote Phra Punnajanto.
“When Buddhist people call me back, I shall return.”
On Oct. 29, Punnajanto posted to his Facebook page: “If a Buddhist monk dies from being shot at, or from an explosion in the south at the hand of Malayu bandits, a mosque should be burned, starting from the northern part of Thailand southwards.”
Accompanying the post were anti-Muslim comments and images of monks who had been killed or injured in violence in the three southern provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat.
“Malayu bandits” refers to insurgents who are fighting the Thai state in the three provinces, which have an 80 percent Muslim population — most of whom are of Malay extraction.
The insurgency is decades-old, and has seen over 6,500 people killed since a revival of violence in 2004 — among them around 20 Buddhist monks, according to Human Rights Watch.
Of the responses posted to Punnajanto’s Facebook page, opinion was equally divided. Some were in support, while others compared him to fellow ultra-nationalist monk Ashin Wirathu, who is leading an anti-Muslim campaign across the border in Myanmar.
Wirathu’s campaign has stirred up violence that has caused numerous deaths, particularly in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State — home to a large community of Muslim Rohingya.
Since Punnajanto’s post have rallied in defiance.
Sanitsuda Ekkachai wrote in a Bangkok Post column headlined “Nip unholy hate speech in the bud” that although Punnajanto’s idea to burn mosques may be his own, “fear and prejudice against Islam in the Buddhist clergy are certainly not”.
The Facebook postings are not an isolated outburst.
While attending a Suphanburi monastery, north of Bangkok, at the end of October, an Anadolu Agency correspondent chanced across a Buddhist sermon in which the abbot called on his audience to sign a petition to make Buddhism the official religion of the Thai state.
This is in order to protect Buddhism from “the threat of Muslims,” he continued.
Thailand’s southern insurgency is rooted in a century-old ethno-cultural conflict between Malay Muslims living in the three southern provinces and some districts of neighboring Songhkla and the Thai central state.
Armed insurgent groups were formed in the 1960s after the then-military dictatorship tried to interfere in Islamic schools, but the insurgency faded in the 1990s.
In 2004, a rejuvenated armed movement — composed of numerous local cells of fighters — emerged. Since then, the conflict has killed 6,500 people and injured more than 11,000, making it one of the deadliest low-intensity conflicts on the planet.