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Religious Groups Remember Slain, Disappeared Activists Including Monk


June 29 2006

Representatives of several religions gathered recently to mark the death anniversaries of two slain environmental activists and to remember a missing lawyer who fought for human rights.

"How many times do we have to go to the funeral of good people?" asked Venerable Kittisak Kittisophano, deputy abbot of Mettadhamma center in Fang, Chiang Mai province, at the June 17 seminar in Bangkok.

The seminar marked the first anniversary of the murder of Venerable Supoj Suwajano, a fellow Buddhist monk at the center, and the second anniversary of the killing of environmental activist Charoen Wataksorn. It also commemorated the disappearance in March 2004 of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit.

"Causes and Solutions to Violence in the View of Religious Followers" was the theme chosen by the organizers: Mettadhamma Raksa Foundation, which supports Buddhist religious activities; National Network of Followers of Religion; Council of Muslim Organizations of Thailand; and Thai Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace.

Venerable Kittisak said the murder of Venerable Supoj shows that violence in Thai society has increased to the point that no one is safe, "not even a monk, an imam (Muslim prayer leader), a priest or a community leader."

Venerable Supoj was stabbed to death at his center, about 700 kilometers north of Bangkok. He was an outspoken conservationist and reportedly had opposed attempts by influential people, including military officers and local politicians, to gain title to forest land next to his center.

Charoen, an environmental activist in Prachuab Khiri Khan province, about 230 kilometers southwest of Bangkok, was shot on June 21, 2004. He had accused businessmen of occupying public land, aided by officials, and was slain after he submitted a charge sheet to the National Counter Corruption Commission.

Somchai, missing since March 2004, disappeared after representing a Muslim who claimed he was tortured after being falsely accused of having links to the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. Supporters say security personnel kidnapped the lawyer. At the time he was chairperson of the Thailand Muslim Lawyers Association and vice chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of Thailand.

At the seminar, Jesuit Father Vichai Phoktavi, former secretary of the Thai Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said violence and injustice must be fought with peaceful means. Peace, he said, requires courage and love.

"Violence cannot maintain peace," Father Vichai told the gathering, maintaining that "peace is the moral solution to violence." People cannot surrender to violence, but must use good to defeat evil, he said. "There will be more violence if a solution is not based on moral principles."

Vittaya Visetrut, a Muslim scholar, said all religions teach people not to kill but to forgive. He observed that "now money is more powerful than religion, and almost everywhere people focus on business."

Tuenjai Deetes, a senator, agreed and charged that the government is pushing megabusiness projects rather than developing a self-sufficient economy. She called this "structural violence," while pointing out that "personal violence" arises when people have no mercy, patience and calmness. Both levels of violence lead to anger and conflict, she said.

Venerable Kittisak also identified shortsighted development, which he attributed to a blurring of the line between business and government, as a major problem. In the current environment, he said, religions cannot function as they should and are accused of being anti-development. "It is not that we are against development," he countered, "but development should be sustainable and should have a spiritual component too."

About 40 Buddhists, Christians and Muslims attended the seminar, held at the 14 October Memorial Hall in Bangkok. The memorial commemorates the events of Oct. 14, 1973, when dozens of demonstrators, mainly university students, were shot dead while protesting against Thailand´s military regime at the time.


(Accompanying photos available at here)