Religious and security officials have intimidated an environmentalist monk from Phrae Province who joined a march for civil rights from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. He joined the walk for only five kilometres.
On 24 January 2018, the fourth day of the “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” march, Phra Yongyut Thipako, abbot of Wat Pang Ngun temple, told Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) that three police officers from Saroi Police Station, Phrae Province visited the temple in a search for him.
In the morning, the authorities asked to see him, but as he was not at the temple, the authorities requested his disciple for his phone number and left the temple. The authorities later called the abbot and questioned his participation in the march. Yongyut replied that he joined the rally merely to support villagers, without the intention to attack any person or organisation in particular, so it should not violate the law. He added that he joined the walk for only 30 minutes and walked for merely five kilometres.
“I saw the news of the march since it was at Thammasat Rangsit, so I came to support those who walk and asked to join the walk for a short distance. Other people may want to join the march as well, but they fear the power of the state, but I think this is nothing wrong,” Yongyut told Matichon
during the walk. “It’s the basic rights and freedoms of the people.”
On the same day, Youngyut faced more intimidation when he went to give a Dharma lecture at a temple in Bangkok and. Around six officials from the National Office of Buddhism visited him at the lecture and asked his reason for joining the march.
According to TLHR, Yongyut is not only an abbot but also a local environmentalist. He opposed an iron ore mining project in Phrae. In 2012, he was awarded a “Green Global” prize for his efforts to promote environmentalism.
Organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network, the We Walk march kicked off at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 20 January with four main issues: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.
Since the beginning, the rally has faced several interruptions by the police and military. On the first day, the authorities blocked the activists from exiting Thammasat University, claiming the march violated the junta’s ban on public gatherings of five people or more. The protesters then divided into groups of four people and marched from the university group by group.
A day after, Ayutthaya police officers searched their supply trucks and briefly detained four protesters for interrogation. The protesters had to start the march earlier than planned after the authorities pressured an Ayutthaya temple which sheltered them.