October 17, 2019
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Conservative Thai Buddhists file case against superhero Buddha art

Bangkok, Sep 12 (efe-epa).- A group of hardline Buddhists in Thailand have filed a police complaint about an artwork that depicts Buddha as 1960s Japanese comic book superhero Ultraman, saying it insulted their religious beliefs.

Charoon Wonnakasinanone, a member of Buddhist Power of the Land, confirmed the legal action in a TV interview about the recent scandal in Thailand.

The young female university student behind the creations has been accused of violating section 206 of the penal code, which can involve a prison sentence of between two and seven years for offending religious sentiment.

She has not been named for security reasons.

Controversy arose when the student, who was in her final year at the Nakhonratchasima Rajabhat University, exhibited her work at the Nakhon Ratchasima commercial center in the country's northeast.

One of her paintings depicted an Ultraman figure with Buddha's head sitting in a meditation pose, while other similar figures are shown in martial art positions.

The paintings were removed from the public space following the backlash.

Conservative Buddhists have called for them to be destroyed, several people who sympathized with the young artist offered to buy her work.

Pakorn Proncheewangkul was one such person.

He bought his painting, which depicts the "Ultraman Buddha" shooting laser beams for 4,500 baht (about $147) and auctioned it off to an anonymous buyer for 600,000 ($19,700).

"This painting caused a lot of drama and I didn't want to keep it, so I decided to do something useful with it," he said.

"I can't give the name away. No, he's not a politician.

"He's a man I don't know, but he has already paid for the painting."

Parina Kraikup, a member of the Palang Pracharath Party, which has ties to the military junta, was a prominent critic of the artwork while one if its leading defenders was Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.

Chalermchai said on Facebook that he felt sad about people attacking the student, adding that the imagination of young artists varied according to the characteristics of the generation.

The controversy was such that the artist apologized at a temple in Nakhon Ratchasima.

In a video published by local media outlets, the student said she did not mean to ridicule the faith and had looked up to Buddha's image since her childhood.

She added that she grew up in a modern age and saw Ultraman as a hero and had thought that Buddha could also be seen as a superhero.

Although Thailand does not have an official religion, offenses against religious beliefs are punishable by up to seven years in prison, and films with scenes that could be seen as offensive to Buddhism are often censored.

Notices in English at tourist places remind visitors that using Buddha figures for decoration or as tattoos is considered offensive in the country. EFE-EPA

grs-ht/jt/rb

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