Gov’t Weighs Legal Action against Monk for Speeches Attacking State Counselor

By Htet Naing Zaw 8 May 2019

NAYPYITAW—The government is considering taking legal action against ultra-nationalist monk U Wirathu over his recent speeches in Yangon and Tanintharyi’s Myeik.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is reviewing audio recordings of the speeches to check whether they violated any laws, ministry Permanent Secretary U Myint Oo told The Irrawaddy.

“It is best to follow procedures. We will surely [take action against U Wirathu], but it is important that it is done in line with procedures. We have to confirm that his speeches [violated the law]. We are examining the audio files. And we’ll proceed as the minister has instructed us,” he said.

Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture Thura U Aung Ko was quoted in the May 7 issue of 7 Day newspaper as saying the monk would be prosecuted over speeches he made referring to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the leader of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

When asked about the minister’s plan to prosecute the monk, U Myint Oo said: “We are still looking at how to handle it. The minister may well have said that.”

A two-and-a-half-minute video that recently went viral on social media shows U Wirathu verbally attacking Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally in Myeik on April 5 against amending Article 59(f) of the 2008 Constitution, which bars her from the presidency.

“[She] only knows how to put on makeup, wear fashion and walk in high heels. What’s more, [she] likes to shake her ass when [she] sees foreigners. And [I don’t understand why people] want to elect someone that is lecherous as the president. We will be doomed. The country is doomed to become the one that General [Aung San] predicted,” U Wirathu said.

Before independence, General Aung San, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, urged citizens to work hard, saying the country would have to rely on prostitution otherwise.

The monk also criticized the government for including foreigners on the Rakhine investigation commission. He asked why Myanmar fought to regain independence if it wanted to rely on foreign governments so much.

“The General risked his life for independence, because he didn’t know about his daughter,” the monk said.

Speaking at a similar rally in front of Yangon City Hall on Sunday, the ultranationalist monk called for military-appointed lawmakers to be worshipped like the Buddha.

“Today, soldiers sit in Parliament, braving the wrath [of the people]. They don’t get the salaries of a lawmaker. The only get their soldiers’ salaries. You should, in fact, worship the soldiers who protect the country despite the wrath and their [modest] soldiers’ salaries,” he said.

Ashin Ariyavumsa, the abbot of Myawady Monastery in Yangon, told The Irrawaddy that U Wirathu’s statements tarnish Buddhism, and that the members of the Sangha—the Buddhist clergy—should no longer accept him as a monk.

“He should have been banned by monks long ago. Now, Buddhist monks dare not travel abroad in yellow robes,” the monk said.

The abbot questioned the purpose of forming township Sangha Nayaka committees, and the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the highest Buddhist authority in Myanmar, if they are simply going to ignore U Wirathu’s inflammatory actions.

The Irrawaddy phoned U Wirathu for comment about the possible government action against him. The monk picked up the phone, but when he heard it was The Irrawaddy, he laughed and hung up.

Notorious for his anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of communal violence in Rakhine State in 2012, U Wirathu was once featured on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee banned U Wirathu from preaching sermons for one year in 2017, after he wrote on his Facebook page that he was grateful to the assassins of slain constitutional lawyer and NLD legal adviser U Ko Ni.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture said in a statement regarding the ban on U Wirathu’s preaching that the restrictions on the monk were due to his criticism of the government, religious hate speech made at a Dhamma talk in Kyunku, and his praise for those who have since been convicted of U Ko Ni’s murder.

In February 2018, under pressure to clamp down on hate speech, Facebook removed U Wirathu’s page due to his incendiary posts about Muslims.