Buddhist Nationalists Disrupt Muslim Ceremony in Downtown Rangoon

By Lawi Weng 9 January 2017

RANGOON — Dozens of intruders, including nationalist Buddhist monks, halted a Muslim religious ceremony in downtown Rangoon on Sunday afternoon.

Around 100 people attended the ceremony at the YMCA on 45th Street, organized by the Ulama Islam organization to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It was intended to last five hours, but was called off after just 30 minutes.

“[The group] arrived early, before the ceremony started, and told us they wouldn’t let it go ahead, even though we already had permission from the authorities,” said U Aung Naing Win, an interfaith leader who joined the gathering.

Police, township authorities, and lawmakers were present at the scene to negotiate between the two sides and reconcile the situation.

Ko Ko Oo, a police officer from Botahtaung Township, told reporters that he would not take action against the nationalist group as they were not violent.

“They did not swear, beat, or act violent toward the people there. They just came to check on the ceremony,” he said.

Dozens of the intruders said they were from the Patriotic Monks Union, a group known for its anti-Muslim stance.

According to U Aung Naing Win, one monk named U Thu Sei Tha shouted at those gathering for the ceremony that it would be the last such event.

U Aung Naing Win said that Muslim community leaders are discussing how to take legal action against the nationalist group.

Hasan Ka, the vice president of the ceremony’s organizing committee, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they had held the event annually for the last seven years without incident.

He said those causing a disturbance “were only a group of people who are trying to destroy democracy.”

The same group reportedly caused a disturbance at a Muslim ceremony in Thakatha Township on Jan. 7.

U Aung Naing Win said that nationalist monks “tried to find out about every ceremony. Even if we hold them secretly, they still find out.”

Despite Burma’s political reforms, anti-Muslim incidents continue to occur in the country.

Violence against Burma’s religious minorities spread during the rule of President U Thein Sein with ultranationalist groups like the Ma Ba Tha being accused of inciting hatred.

The Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy government, elected in 2015, promised to take action against groups like the Ma Ba Tha, who have since become less vocal.