Thai government takes action against monk over anti-Muslim views

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Thai government said on Thursday it plans to take legal action against a radical Buddhist monk detained by police for posting anti-Islamic views on social media, and posing a threat to national security.

Phra Maha Aphichat Punnajanto is based at a temple in Bangkok, but police detained him on Tuesday in southern Thailand, a region where Muslim separatist insurgents have been fighting for decades.

A spokesman for Thailand’s military-led government told Reuters that Aphichat had been warned in the past that his social media activities could spark religious conflict.

“His actions demean another religion and are considered inappropriate,” Lieutenant General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

“The government now has to take legal action against him.”

The 31-year-old firebrand rose to prominence in 2015 when he urged Buddhists across the country to burn down a mosque as retribution for every monk killed in the insurgency.

The outspoken monk has also been active in campaigning to make Buddhism a state religion of Thailand.

Aphichat has voiced admiration for Ashin Wirathu, a monk in Myanmar well known for his anti-Muslim views, and sees his actions as a model for safeguarding Buddhism in Thailand.

Police told Reuters that Aphichat was being detained at the Crime Suppression Division unit in Bangkok.

Images appeared on social media on Wednesday evening showing Aphichat being disrobed in his temple.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said on Thursday Aphichat had left his religious order voluntarily.

Reuters was unable to reach Aphichat for comment.

The Buddhist Association of Thailand issued a statement protesting the Aphichat’s detention saying that it was disrespectful and breached personal rights.

A monk from the same temple, who declined to be named, told Reuters that Aphichat had not breach any laws governing their order and he could not be defrocked.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore