BANGKOK — A hardcore royalist monk led a protest at the U.S. Embassy to urge the United States to stop calling for Thailand to amend its laws against insulting the monarchy.
Amid tight police security, Buddha Issara arrived with a group of supporters to the embassy to deliver a letter condemning international nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch, which they believed was established by the U.S. government.
“Thailand is not the colony of any country. We have Nation, Religion and the Monarchy as our own beloved institutions,” read the letter addressed to recently installed U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies. “Especially the monarchy, which has been building national security for hundreds of years until now.
The letter said calls from Human Rights Watch to amend articles 112 and 116 of the Criminal Code, which address lese majeste, posed a threat to the monarchy and should be stopped.
“We call for this New York-based organization and U.S. Embassy officers to stop intervening in our domestic affair and apologize to the Thai people for disrespecting our dignity by insulting our king,” it continued. “And we, the Thai people, hope the ambassador and U.S. government will prioritize this issue.”
The crowd gathered for 30 minutes under heavy rain before leaving without incident.
Embassy spokesman David Whitted confirmed receipt of the letter, saying the embassy values the “freedoms of expression and assembly, including the peaceful delivery of letters.”
“We regularly urge Thai authorities to ensure and protect these freedoms, in accordance with Thailand’s international obligations and commitments,” the statement said. “The United States government has the utmost respect for the Thai monarchy.”
Buddha Issara, who played a leadership role in the anti-government movement which precipitated the 2014 coup d’etat, issued a call Monday for people to gather to protect the monarchy, alleging Thailand’s Human Rights Watch chief Sunai Phasuk was not neutral and had interfered in domestic politics.
Although Human Rights Watch is a private nonprofit independent of the U.S. government, the activist monk said he chose the U.S Embassy because he thought the NGO was founded by the American government.
Over the years, Human Rights Watch’s umbrella organization has called a number of times for Thailand to reform its lese majeste laws. After the military seized power in May 2014, the group said the law was being used by the junta “as part of its crackdown and attempt to maintain its hold on power” in a November 2014 report.
Buddha Issara said he was not acting in the name of the Thai government today because of concerns going it would strain relations with Washington, especially with junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha returning to Thailand today from New York City where he attended the UN General Assembly.
Buddha Issara rose to prominence as a key leader of the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State, or PCAD. In early 2014 he personally led crowds to occupy the Chaeng Wattana government complex.
In another notable encounter, he once demanded a hotel owned by the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pay him 120,000 baht after it refused service to his large group of protesters. Later that month he led a crowd to protest Voice TV, a broadcast news agency which counts Thaksin’s son as its biggest stakeholder, to demand it apologize for what he called “unfair reporting.”
Also present today was Rienthong Nanna, leader of an ultra-royalist group called the “Rubbish Collection Organisation.”
He had a message personally requesting President Barack Obama to not allow Thai exiles to defame the monarchy on U.S. soil or infringe upon the “human rights of the Thai Monarchy.”