Emergency powers abused at Wat Dhammakaya: lawyers

Human rights lawyers have called on the junta to cease the use of absolute powers during the ongoing clash between authorities and monks at Wat Dhammakaya.
 
On 20 February 2017, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) released a statement calling on the military government to cease the use of special powers in its raid of Wat Dhammakaya. The statement condemns authorities’ excessive use of force and argues the use of emergency powers represents a dangerous violation of rule of law. 
 
In an overnight decree on 15 February, junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked Article 44 of the interim constitution to pass NCPO Head Order 5/2560, granting police officers, military officers, officers from the Department of Special Investigations and other agents emergency powers to raid Wat Dhammakaya.
 
Clashes between hundreds of authorities and temple followers turned violent as monks and lay supporters of the temple attempted to block the operation. Officials are hunting for Dhammachaiyo, 72, the fugitive former abbot of the controversial Wat Dhammakaya who is accused of receiving 1.4 billion baht in embezzled funds as a donation from a credit union’s president.
 
The THLR statements condemns the NCPO order for violating the rule of law, since just laws should be impartial and applicable to all. In contrast, NCPO Head Order 5/2560 demarcates a ‘controlled zone’ for the use of exceptional powers. TLHR argues that if Thailand were a true democracy, it would have a judicial system able to check and balance the order.
 
TLHR deems as unjustified the granting of emergency powers to authorities, such as spontaneous home raids, body searches and destruction of property — powers reminiscent of martial law. The statement expresses concerns such powers are liable to infringe on the rights and freedoms of people, especially those of the 6,000 or so citizens within the vicinity of the ‘controlled zone’ who have committed no crime.
 
THLR further condemns Article 44 of the interim constitution, which confers the junta the absolute power that was the basis of NCPO Head Order 5/2560. THLR points out that Article 44 represents a heinous violation of the rule of law, since it allows all actions and commands of the junta to be legal and constitutional. Moreover, the Article 44 sustains a culture of impunity by barring prosecution for otherwise unlawful abuses.
 
Representatives of Wat Dhammakaya deny the money laundering charges against Dhammachaiyo, saying they are politically motivated. Dhammachaiyo has not been seen in public since he was charged in June 2016. 
 
 
Dhammakaya monks block soldiers from raiding their temple (Photo from Winyat Chatmontree)