Group Targets Rangoon Division for Next Petition Against U Wirathu

By Zue Zue & Htun Htun 17 May 2017

RANGOON — A group combating false teachings of Buddhist doctrines is collecting signatures across Rangoon Division for a petition against the ultranationalist monk U Wirathu.

The Anti-False Buddhist Doctrine Committee will send the petition to the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ha Na, asking if the actions and speeches of U Wirathu are “moral” or not.

Formed in March as an outlet for netizens to protest against the monk’s inflammatory racial and religious rhetoric, the committee’s original 12 members delivered a petition of more than 500 signatures from Rangoon’s Dagon (South) Township to Ma Ha Na on April 11.

But the state Buddhist authority did not reply, according to the committee’s organizer Ko Myat Kyaw. This time, he said, the group is collecting signatures across the division for one month beginning from May 21.

“We’ll take a step forward and demand more signatures,” he said. “We’ll try to put the petition directly in the hands of the Ma Ha Na senior monks and the religious affairs minister.”

Membership of the committee has swelled to 50 people, added Ko Myat Kyaw.

Ma Ha Na banned U Wirathu, a prominent leader of the hardline Buddhist monk association known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, from delivering sermons across the country for one year starting from March 10, because of his “religious hate speech.”

Fellow Ma Ba Tha leader U Sopaka said the monk’s words have “nothing to do” with Ma Ba Tha at a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday.

Ashin Sopaka at a press conference about Ma Ba Tha on Tuesday in Rangoon. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

“We have a policy to discipline a member who tarnishes the image of Ma Ba Tha,” he told reporters. “But we won’t take action against anyone who doesn’t violate the regulations. So far, none of Ma Ba Tha’s members have done anything that deserves expulsion.”

At the conference, Ma Ba Tha denied any involvement in a midnight confrontation between Buddhist nationalists and Muslims in Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township last week.

The group formed an association named ‘Dhamma Wunthanu Rekhita’—translated as ‘Champion of Buddha’s Teachings and National Interests’—on April 29 to respond to accusations that are seen as damaging to its image.

The association will handle “cases that are not appropriate for Ma Ba Tha monks,” according to its joint secretary U Aung Chit.

Maung Thway Chun, chief editor of Ma Ba Tha’s nationalist weekly journals Tharki Thway and Aung Zay Yatu, chairs the association, which is overseen by Ma Ba Tha.

U Soe Tun Shein, owner of National Prosperity, which operates in Moehti Moemi Mines in Mandalay Division, is the secretary. His company has received criticism in the past

National Prosperity won a tender to mine gold in the area in late 2011, but in June 2012, workers from the hundreds of small mines in Moehti Moemi began protesting after the company allegedly reneged on an earlier verbal agreement to split all gold found in the area 50-50

The association will work within the legal framework on religious and educational matters “to facilitate national development,” said U Aung Chit.

Last summer, Ma Ba Tha monks organized Dhamma—meaning the Buddha’s teachings—classes for young students, which drew criticism from netizens after photos of anti-Muslim lessons went viral.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.