Former NLD Official Apologizes to Clergy, Remains in Detention

By San Yamin Aung 16 January 2015

RANGOON — Facing a hefty prison term, a contrite Htin Lin Oo offered a public apology to Buddhist monks on Thursday, a gesture of reconciliation accepted by the local clergy that has nonetheless failed to halt the author’s prosecution on religious offence charges.

Htin Lin Oo’s meeting with monks in Sagaing Division’s Chaung-U Township came immediately after the renowned columnist and former National League for Democracy (NLD) information officer had his fifth application for bail denied by the local court, according to defense lawyer Thein Than Oo.

“The case depends on the complainant as to whether it will continue or not,” Thein Than Oo told The Irrawaddy. “It will prove who really wants to prosecute him, since the monks have now forgiven him.”

Htin Lin Oo met with including the head of the local Sangha and around 30 other monks at the Dhamma Hall of the Chaung-U police station after his Thursday court appearance, apologizing for a speech presented during a literary event in October in which he criticized religious nationalism in Burma.

An excerpt of Htin Lin Oo’s speech was widely shared over social media, leading to condemnation from nationalist monks and his dismissal from the NLD information officer position after an internal investigation. The author was denied bail at his first court appearance in Dec. 17 and has been in custody ever since.

Tun Khaing, the officer from the township immigration office who filed the initial lawsuit at the local clergy’s request, said he had no intention of withdrawing the charges.

“Monks in Chaung-U accepted his apology, but I believe it is not relevant to the prosecution,” he said. “According to my personal view, the case concerns all monks and all members of the public who are members of the religion he disgraced.”

Saw Sandar, Htin Lin Oo’s wife, said that the case was opened at the request of the Chaung-U Sangha, and she hoped the monks would ask for the charges to be withdrawn after accepting his apology, adding that the excerpt of his speech shown over social media had led to his words being taken wildly out of context.

“Those who listen to his full speech will know what he wanted to say, but those who just watched the excerpt of the video will not understand,” she said.

Htin Lin Oo has been charged under the Penal Code’s Article 295a, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”, and Article 298, which proscribes “uttering words […] with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”. Both charges are punishable by fines or jail terms of up to two years for the former and one year for the latter.