A Buddhist monk has drawn ire in Thailand for coming to the defense of a police officer who stands accused of torturing a suspected drug trafficker to death in a case that has caused nationwide uproar.
The monk, identified as Phra Arnon, visited a police station late last week in the northern town of Nakhon Sawan to offer moral support to Thitisan Uttanapol, a police colonel who, along with several of his subordinates, placed plastic bags on the head of a 24-year-old man until he suffocated to death this month, according to footage obtained from one of the station’s security cameras and released online.
Thitisan, 42, who owns a large collection of luxury vehicles and expensive properties, was allegedly trying to extort 2 million baht from the suspected drug dealer.
The policeman, who has been arrested and denied bail, has said he was torturing the man only to learn where illegal narcotics had been hidden so that he could rid his community of them.
The monk took the policeman’s version of events at face value as he stood outside the police station and launched into a harangue while being recorded by several people.
“I don’t believe those charges [against Thitisan],” the monk said in one clip posted online. “It was a case of recklessness. It was an accident. It wasn’t murder committed intentionally.”
The monk also commended the policeman for being “man enough” to admit wrongdoing, although Thitisan recorded the cause of death for the suspect as a drug overdose before the video clip was released online by a prominent Thai lawyer who had obtained the footage.
Arnon also sought to play down questions about the unusual wealth of Thitisan, whose nickname is “Joe Ferrari” and who owns two luxury properties in Bangkok in addition to numerous expensive cars including Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris.
“No one is morally pure 100 percent. If [Thitisan] is rich, that’s his business. Many top cops are rich,” the monk said, adding that the murdered suspect himself wasn’t pure as he was a drug dealer.
The monk’s comments, recordings of which have been widely shared online, have outraged numerous people in Thailand.
“An absolute disgrace. [He] should be defrocked,” one commenter noted. “A cardinal sin cannot be whitewashed because it was perpetrated against a sinner. The Lord Buddha’s teachings should not be hijacked and used in this way.”
“If this was a real monk, he would visit the family of the murder victim,” another commenter said.
However, some commenters took the monk’s side.
“People forget that all religions teach forgiveness of everyone. Who is pure among all of you? Nobody,” one commenter noted.
“Jesus taught forgiveness in his preaching,” he added. “Do you remember what Jesus told to a criminal before he died [on the cross]? He told him that he will go to heaven.”
Monks are held in high esteem in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, but some men of the cloth cause periodic outrage with their behavior, which includes acts expressly prohibited by their religion.
The original version of this story appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.