RANGOON – A social activist monk of Mratazaung monastery was arrested by Mrauk U police on Monday under charges of violating Burma’s Unlawful Association Act and sent to prison in the state capital of Sittwe, said deputy township police officer Saw Shwe Maung.
The monk and an activist Ko Nay Min organized football matches and a literary talk on April 10 as commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the establishment of the Arakan Army (AA) in 2009. A Mrauk U-based Burma Army battalion (540) filed a complaint against the monk at the police station, and township authorities verbally warned Ko Nay Min to cancel the football match or avoid titling it the “Arakan Army Cup,” as he had planned to do.
Yet the Mratazaung monk posted on his Facebook page, “Bullets cannot threaten my beliefs.”
A video which captured the argument between the police and the monk shows that the monk complained to the authorities that every citizen has the rights to express their own opinions about what they believe in. He also questioned whether their activities violated existing laws.
Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act is a colonial-era statute frequently used to prosecute members or suspected affiliates of ethnic armed groups. Though the newly elected National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government voiced plans to amend the law earlier in its administration, it remains intact.
“Actually, what we were doing there was simply expressing support for the AA,” said Ko Zaw Win.
According to him, the monastery offers free monastic education for poor families with the permission of the ministry of religious affairs and about 200 students currently rely on it.
The Arakan National Party’s central committee member U Khine Pyi Soe remarked that the detention was too strong for trying to organize a normal football match, even if they did express their support for the AA, because the case was not related to weapons or ammunitions seizure.
An official from the Sittwe police told The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon that the township Sangha Nayaka committee ordered the monk to symbolically remove his religious robe on Thursday before he was sent to prison.