Irrawaddy Division Govt Cites ‘Security Reasons’ in Banning Wirathu Sermon

By Salai Thant Zin 2 February 2017

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — The Irrawaddy Division government said it has banned the delivery of a sermon by prominent ultranationalist monk Wirathu in the regional capital of Pathein for security reasons.

Wirathu, the high-profile leader of the nationalist Buddhist monks’ organization better known by its Burmese acronym of Ma Ba Tha, had planned to deliver a sermon in Pathein on Wednesday.

“An assassination that seemed to be inspired by racial hatred has just happened,” Irrawaddy Division municipal minister U Kyaw Myint told The Irrawaddy, referring to the shooting of prominent Muslim lawyer U Ko Ni outside Rangoon International Airport on Sunday.

“And despite the fact that the monk had promised [the government] that he would only preach about religious matters, he has widely preached racial hatred, and is known both locally and internationally for this,” U Kyaw Myint explained. “We were concerned that there would be crowd disturbances if we allowed the sermon. So, from a security point of view, we remarked that the ceremony should not be permitted.”

The Irrawaddy National Network, a local network of nationalist organizations based in Pathein organized the ceremonies to be held respectively on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 with sermons to be given by a local monk from Bassein and Wirathu.

Following the ban, the network had to remove the stage on which the sermons were to be delivered.

“As a Buddhist, I feel sad that a Buddhist sermon ceremony was not allowed in a Buddhist country. We worked up a sweat to hold the ceremony. We have distributed pamphlets across almost all of Irrawaddy Division, and also put up vinyls, and prepared the stage.  We feel sad that the ceremony was canceled after such detailed preparation,” said U Zaw Wai, a representative of the network that took the leading role in organizing the ceremony.

U Zaw Wai said that he had apologized to Wirathu for the cancelation of his sermon, and that Wirathu had accepted it.

The divisional government, in response to advice from the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, a government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks that oversees and regulates the Sangha, also banned a dhamma talk by Shwenyawa Sayadaw, which was to be held in Pathein’s No. 10 Ward in December of last year.

Shwenyawa Sayadaw is an outspoken monk known for his opposition both to the military and to Buddhist nationalism, and for his stance against the anti-Muslim sentiment of the 969-movement.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.