MANDALAY – Despite an official one-year ban on delivering his public sermons, nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu has said he will continue his “silent protest,” which he believes does not violate the gag order put forward by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na).
On March 11, U Wirathu livestreamed a video to his Facebook page of him sitting on a plinth in Irrawaddy Division’s Thee Kwin village with tape over his mouth, while a recording of one of his older sermons played from a CD player for a crowd of some 500 people.
“The rules of the statement say I must not give sermons in public. The silent sermons didn’t break any rules or laws, because I didn’t speak or give a sermon. I can carry on the silent sermons in the future,” U Wirathu said, in reference to the order from Ma Ha Na, which was handed down in order to halt religious hate speech.
The Mandalay divisional Buddhist authority officially informed U Wirathu on Sunday of the statement banning him from public sermons for one year. He said monks from the religious authority did not mention if action would taken against him for his silent sermons.
“There are news reports which said that I’ve been warned by the divisional Sangha Nayaka and that a notice would be given if I carry on the silent sermons. None of it is true,” he said. “The monks just informed me about the statement and read it out at our meeting.”
The statement was released on March 11, but U Wirathu was traveling at the time, and was therefore officially informed of the ban later.
The nationalist monk has held three silent protest events in Irrawaddy Division, Kachin State and Mandalay Division. Condemnation and criticism of the events flared on social media, as netizens questioned the silence of the national Buddhist authorities and urged government authorities to take legal action against U Wirathu in order to stop spreading hate speech.
U Wirathu heads the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion and is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
U Aung Ko, the Union minister of religious affairs, told media representatives in Naypyidaw last week that the matter of U Wirathu would be handled carefully, and said that taking pre-emptive action could stir up problems.