Five Monks Released From Prison After Threat of Mass Protest

By The Irrawaddy 20 June 2014

RANGOON — Five Buddhist monks have been released from detention but are still facing charges after a state-backed Buddhist clergy raided their monastery in Rangoon earlier this month.

After nationalist monk U Wirathu threatened to rally hundreds of thousands of fellow clergyman to protest the detainment, a court in Tamwe Township, Rangoon Division, announced on Friday that the five monks would be released on bail from the notorious Insein Prison and returned their robes. The bail for each defendant was 20 million kyats (US$20,000).

More than 100 supporters of the monks gathered at the court to hear the announcement, which came the same day the country’s religious affairs minister was fired for allegedly failing to uphold his duties. The minister is also facing allegations of corruption.

Aye Cho, a senior lawyer for the five monks, said his clients had been charged with insulting religious feelings and beliefs, and with disturbing places of religious worship and assembly. The charges carry fines and prison terms of between one and two years.

The raid on Rangoon’s Maha Thanti Thukha monastery on June 10 has become a scandal in Burma, a Buddhist majority country that holds monks in high esteem. The state-backed clergy responsible for the raid evicted seven monks and 32 laymen from the monastery.

The five detained monks, including the English national Sayadaw U Ottara, are followers of Penang Sayadaw U Pyinnya Wuntha, an 86-year-old abbot who has been involved in a dispute with the state-backed clergy over the ownership of the monastery since the early 2000s. The Ministry of Religious Affairs had backed the state clergy in the case and supported the raid.