Five Monks Cleared of Insulting Religion in Long-Running Mahasantisukha Monastery Case

By Tin Htet Paing 11 December 2015

RANGOON — Rangoon’s Eastern District Court on Thursday dismissed a charge of insulting religion brought against five Buddhist monks in a long-running case that stems from a controversial raid on a monastery in June 2014.

The charge was dismissed against the five resident monks of Tamwe Township’s Mahasantisukha Monastery in Rangoon Division on the grounds that the plaintiff, Sein Maw, who is head of the divisional Religious Affairs Department, had failed to appear in court on multiple occasions.

The case relates to an overnight raid by authorities, in cooperation with the government-backed Buddhist clergy council, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka, on the Mahasantisukha Monastery in June 2014, leading to the arrest of several monks and over two-dozen laymen.

The monastery had been at the center of an ownership dispute since the early 2000s, broadly pitting the revered abbot U Pyinnya Wuntha, who claims ownership of the monastery, against the state-backed Sangha and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The five monks were charged with insulting religion under Article 295(a) of Burma’s Penal Code alongside an additional charge of disobeying the orders of the Sangha under a 1990 law governing the religious body.

Only the former charge was dismissed at the court hearing—the 40th in the long-running case—on Thursday.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, one of the accused, U Ottara, also known as London Sayadaw, said the defendants welcomed the court’s decision as they had not committed the offence.

“We [agreed with] the law enforcement in this case as the Court decided according to the law without taking anyone’s side,” the monk said.

Defense lawyer Thein Win said the decision was a positive step in the case with another hearing scheduled at Tamwe Township Court for Dec. 18.

“Our side has a favorable position now and thus we will continue to defend this until the end of the case,” he said.

The accused monks are U Ottara, U Pannasara, U Tejinda, U Thonedara Thiri and U Nandira.