YANGON—A group of nine Buddhist monks and laypersons who organized a rally in Yangon to pray for the safety of fugitive nationalist monk U Wirathu and for an end to oppression against monks and Buddhism on Monday have been sued by the regional government for alleged unlawful assembly.
The opening of the cases against them is the first action by the regional government in response to a series of rallies that have been held since an arrest warrant was issued for U Wirathu last month for sedition.
Following the rally, cases were opened against four monks, including U Teza Vunta of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Association, and five other men under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, according to Bahan Police Station. The article forbids the holding of public gatherings without official permission. No arrests have been made so far, as the alleged offenders have yet to be summoned. If found guilty, they face three to 12 months in prison.
Several hundred nationalists led by the Buddhist monks gathered near Shwedagon Pagoda in Bahan Township before marching downtown. During their short prayer rally downtown, they shouted “Long live Buddhism,” “Be safe U Wirathu” and “Freedom from oppression for Buddhism and its monks.”
The arrest warrant for U Wirathu, who faces a charge of sedition, was issued by the Yangon regional government on May 28. He is being charged under Article 124(a) of the Penal Code for attempting to incite disaffection with the government. If prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine. The monk has been on the run since then.
Monday’s was the latest in a series of rallies since the arrest warrant was issued for U Wirathu. Previously, nationalists have staged protests in Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere. Monday’s lawsuits mark the government’s first legal move against this movement.
During the rally, U Teza Vunta told The Irrawaddy that the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Association did not obtain official permission to hold the gathering.
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