Karen Govt Mulls Lawsuit Against Organizers of Nationalist Rally

By Hintharnee 11 September 2017

MAWLAMYINE, Mon State — The Karen State government may sue organizers of a nationalist rally on Rakhine State’s unraveling conflict held at Taunggalay Ground in Karen State capital Hpa-an, according to the state’s Mon ethnic affairs minister U Min Tin Win.

The organizers’ application for the event was rejected by the Hpa-an administrator “for certain reasons,” minister U Min Tin Win told The Irrawaddy on Monday. The administrator wrote to the state government, advising it to file a lawsuit against the organizers for persisting with the event.

The Karen State Association for Protection of Race and Religion claimed about 40,000 people attended its talks on Sunday. The chapter—known by its Myanmar acronym Ma Ba Tha—has defied a countrywide ban by the State Buddhist Sangha authority from operating under its current name.

Chapter spokesperson Ashin Gambisara said speakers at the event condemned the violence in Rakhine State. They called for an end to perceived oppression of Buddhism and Buddhists and unity among the citizens of Myanmar, he said.

Organizers requested permission for the event, said Ashin Gambisara, adding that authorities “did not reject it but did not like it.”

“They cited things like security concerns and H1N1 flu virus, and said they thought it should not be organized. But they didn’t say they would not allow it. If they hadn’t allowed it, we would not have done it,” Ashin Gambisara told The Irrawaddy.

Among the event’s four speakers was ultranationalist monk U Wirathu, who the state Buddhist authority banned from delivering sermons for one year, starting from March 10, due to his religious hate speech.

He criticized the National League for Democracy (NLD) government at the event, accusing it of being “pro-Muslim” despite international criticism of its treatment of self-identifying Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine, nearly 300,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 militant attacks on police outposts.

“Its name is National League for Democracy. This is a combination of two things—nationalism and democracy. If it puts all its efforts into nationalism and democracy, Myanmar would be top of Asia. But seeing is believing. Its name includes ‘national,’ but in its offices, all the staff are foreigners,” he told the crowd.

Maung Thway Chun, chief editor of the nationalist group’s recently suspended weekly journals, columnist for those publications, U Kyaw Swe, and writer Anyataya Kapiya also spoke at the event.

U Min Tin Win said the event was aimed at attacking a government facing growing crises across the country.

“They said their talks were about the immigration issue in Rakhine State, but they were not. They targeted the government and I think they are sparking one fire after another. It is not what a dutiful Myanmar citizen should do,” he said.

After the event on Sunday, Karen State Ma Ba Tha released a statement calling on the government to officially deny self-identifying Rohingya recognition as an ethnicity in Myanmar, and to take prompt actions against Muslim militants in Rakhine.

It also called on the government to recognize the name Ma Ba Tha, allow it to continue publishing weekly journals Aung Zay Yatu and Atumashi, and release detained nationalists.

The state Buddhist authority—known as Ma Ha Na—on May 23 banned the nationalist organization from operating under its current name and also ordered that all signs bearing the name be taken down across the country by July.

Ma Ba Tha then changed its name to Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation (Central), but the Karen State chapter has defied the ban and continues to operate under the current name.

The Irrawaddy was not able to reach Hpa-an Township administrator U Myo Min Tun for comment on Monday.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.