Human rights groups accused government forces and pro-government death squads of extrajudicial killings of Muslim individuals suspected of involvement with separatists. According to a well-known NGO, government forces had conducted 30 extrajudicial killings in the three southernmost provinces as of September. The government continued to arrest suspected militants, some of them juveniles, and in some cases held them for a month or more under an emergency decree and martial law provisions. Human rights organizations maintained the arrests were arbitrary, excessive, and needlessly lengthy, and continued to criticize detention facility overcrowding. Civil society groups accused the army of torturing some suspected militants at detention facilities.
In areas of the southern provinces where violence 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 accept military protection, saying that they wished to avoid the possibility that militants would target them because of the military presence. The temples also cited the likely costs of military protection, including higher utility bills and the effort to control behavior on temple grounds. Many temples instead relied on Buddhist volunteers for security.
Amid frequent bombings, other types of attacks by suspected insurgents and government security operations in response, tensions between the local ethnic Malay Muslim and ethnic Thai Buddhist communities remained high. The emergency decree in effect in the majority Muslim southern area gave military, police, and civilian authorities significant powers to restrict certain basic rights and delegated certain internal security powers to the armed forces.
Muslim professors and clerics, particularly in the southernmost provinces, faced additional scrutiny because of continuing government concern about Malay Muslim separatist activities. Government officials and journalists said some Islamic schools indoctrinated youth into supporting the conflict. Academics at a deep-South university concluded that southern insurgents targeted state schools and teachers in response to a perceived effort to impose Thai Buddhist culture on the region.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to deny the request of Falun Gong representatives 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 accordance with constitutional requirements, the government subsidized activities of the five recognized religious communities. The government allocated 4.8 billion baht ($146.6 million) for the fiscal year to support the National Buddhism Bureau, an independent state agency. The bureau oversaw the Buddhist clergy and approved the curricula 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. The government budgeted 411 million baht ($12.6 million) for the RAD, including 61.5 million baht ($1.9 million) for Buddhist organizations; 8 million baht ($244,349) for Islamic organizations; and 2.2 million baht ($67,196) for Christian, Brahmin-Hindu, and Sikh organizations. The RAD fiscal year budget also allocated 64.2 million baht ($2 million) for religious lectures, 96 million baht ($3 million) for Buddhist Sunday school, 12 million baht ($366,524) for Islamic study centers, 7.5 million baht ($229,076) for religious activities for persons with disabilities, and 8 million baht ($244,349) for interfaith events. Pursuant to law, the government budgeted 16.1 million baht ($491,753), the same as the previous year, to promote and facilitate Muslim participation in the Hajj.
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 religious posts, and to subsidize travel and health care for monks and Muslim clerics. The budgets also included funding 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 978 million baht ($30 million), a three-fold increase from the previous year, for the maintenance of Buddhist temples and institutions.
The RAD budgeted 20 million baht ($610,874) for the restoration of religious buildings of non-Buddhist, non-Muslim religious groups, which were able to request government support for renovation and repair work but did not receive a regular budget to maintain religious buildings, nor government assistance to support their clergy. The RAD budget for the maintenance of religious buildings for these groups remained unchanged from the previous year.
Private donations to registered religious organizations remained tax deductible.
Religious groups generally proselytized freely. Monks working as Buddhist missionaries were active, particularly in border areas among the country’s tribal populations. According to the National Buddhism Bureau, there were 4,746 Buddhist missionaries working nationwide.
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. 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 of missionaries.
There were close to 1,600 registered foreign missionaries, mostly Christian. Some missionaries were present in accordance with formal quotas set along religious and denominational lines, while many unregistered missionaries also lived and worked in the country without government interference. Registration conferred some benefits, such as visas with longer validity, but 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.
The government recognized 39 elected Provincial Islamic Committees nationwide. Their responsibilities included providing advice to provincial governors on Islamic issues; deciding on the establishment, relocation, merger, and dissolution of mosques; appointing persons to serve as imams; and issuing announcements and approvals of Islamic religious activities, among others.
In accordance with the constitution, the government sponsored interfaith dialogue through regular meetings and public education programs. The RAD carried out and oversaw many of these efforts. On August 13, the RAD held its annual interfaith assembly in Bangkok, and approximately 1, 500 people participated, including representatives from each registered religious group. The RAD also conducted an annual interfaith caravan in January to Loei Province, which brought blankets, clothes, and other necessary items to people in need. The RAD, in conjunction with provincial authorities, sponsored Youth Reconciliation Camps in 62 provinces throughout the country aimed at creating and strengthening mutual religious understanding.
Muslim community members and the RAD Sheikhul Islam Office of the Supreme Islamic Cleric of Thailand stated that the drama Fa Chrot Sai (Heaven Reaching Earth), which appeared in August on the armed forces-owned television Channel 7, insulted Islam. They stated that the drama, which includes a romance between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman, damaged and distorted Islamic principles. Channel 7 and the production company apologized and pledged to change the program’s content.
The Royal Thai Police in August changed its policy and allowed female Muslim police officers to wear head scarves as a part of their police uniform, in response to a petition by the Pattani Provincial Islamic Committee and the Sheikhul Islam Office. Police officials estimated there were approximately 100 female Muslim police officers, of whom 60 intended to wear head scarves.
Wat Nong Chok Secondary School, a public institution in Bangkok, continued to prohibit female students from wearing headscarves at school, despite interventions by the Ministry of Education, other governmental agencies, and NGOs. On February 28, a court dismissed a 2011 lawsuit filed by a female Muslim student who sought to overturn the ban.