09/14/2019, 09.00
THAILAND
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Thai Buddhist Radicals: Destroy the superhero paintings of Buddha

The images have caused sparked controversy and have become viral on the internet. Despite the public apology to the religious authorities, the extremists have denounced the author. The young woman wanted to represent the Buddha who protects the world as Ultraman.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Thai Buddhist radicals are calling for the destruction of four paintings (photos) depicting the Buddha as the Japanese superhero Ultraman, a very popular character in the 1960s. In the country, the works have sparked a heated debate on the use of sacred images for artistic purposes.

The author of the paintings is a student in her fourth year of university. The authorities did not disclose her name for security reasons. Despite the public apology presented to the religious authorities, extremists have also filed a complaint against the young woman.

The story dates back to last week, when the girl exhibited her creations in a shopping center in the north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima (a three-hour drive from Bangkok). In a short time, the images have caused great fanfare and have become viral on the internet.

Shortly thereafter, the paintings were removed; the artist, in tears, apologized to the head of the Buddhist monks of the province in the presence of the governor. The student justified herself by saying that she wanted to represent the Buddha as a hero, who protects the world just like Ultraman.

In the past, this would have been enough to close the case. But two days ago, the extremist Buddhist Power of the Land group announced that they had submitted a complaint to the police against the artist and four other people involved in the exhibition; organization members argue that the juxtaposition between Buddha and an "action figure" is "disrespectful".

The group wants the five to be prosecuted under a law against religious insult, which involves penalties of up to seven years in prison. Charoon Wonnakasinanone, representative of Buddhist Power of the Land, said: "The paintings dishonored and offended Buddhists, as well as damaging a national treasure." The group also wants the paintings to be destroyed. "It depends on the court, but we want the paintings to be eliminated," adds Jaroon Wannakasin, another spokesman.

According to Thai law, the police must investigate a complaint and assess whether there are valid reasons to prosecute criminal charges; a process that usually takes at least seven days. Practiced by over 90% of citizens, Theravada Buddhism is one of the three pillars of Thai society, alongside the nation and the monarchy.

According to analysts, the complaint highlights the strengthening of ultraconservative Buddhist groups, which seek to bypass religious authorities in combating what they perceive as threats to the faith. The highest official positions in Thai Buddhism opposed the criminal proceedings against the artist. Pongporn Pramsaneh, director of the Office of National Buddhism, said he considered the matter closed after a public apology.

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