Mandalay Govt Asks Local Buddhist Authority to Keep Monks Away from Rallies

By Htun Htun 4 June 2019

YANGON—The Mandalay Region Religious Affairs Department has asked the regional Sangha Nayaka Committee, the local Buddhist authority, to make sure monks do not get involved in non-religious assemblies and processions in the region.

The Religious Affairs Department issued the warning to township Sangha Nayaka Committees after a regional security meeting on May 13.

“The letter only says that concerned Sangha Nayaka Committees are to make sure monks do not get involved [in public gatherings], but doesn’t give particular instructions,” said a monk from the Mandalay Region Sangha Nayaka Committee Office.

The warning is in line with the Religious Affairs and Culture Ministry’s policy of seeking to avoid potential problems resulting from religious sentiments, ministry officials said at a press conference on May 31.

The ministry did not say whether similar warnings would be issued in other regions and states.

This followed the issuing of an arrest warrant for Mandalay-based ultranationalist monk U Wirathu under sedition charges for his remarks at an anti-constitutional amendment rally in Yangon on May 5, in which he attempted to incite disaffection with the government.

Despite vowing to face arrest, the 50-year-old monk has been on the run since the warrant was issued. Since Wednesday last week, the police have been combing Yangon in search of the monk. If he is prosecuted for sedition, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine.

The warrant was issued after the chief of the General Administration Department’s district office, U San Min, filed a lawsuit accusing him of sedition under Article 124(a) of the Penal Code.

In response to the warrant, U Wirathu said in a May 31 letter to the country’s highest Buddhist authority, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), that he would be willing to face legal action, but only after meeting senior monks of the Ma Ha Na.

In Yangon and Mandalay, nationalist forces, including monks, held a rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda on May 30, 31 and June 3 to show solidarity with U Wirathu while condemning his prosecution as unfair.

The President’s Office spokesperson said on May 31 that the Yangon regional government had been ordered by “the administration” to charge U Wirathu. “The prosecution was carried out by the regional government,” he said. When asked if the order came from the President’s Office or the Union government, the spokesperson declined to comment.

The Ma Ha Na originally planned to meet U Wirathu at its office in Yangon on May 30, but the senior monks did not want the monk arrested at the meeting, so it was suspended, according to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.

The latest bid to arrest the monk marks the government’s second legal move against U Wirathu, whose name has become synonymous with anti-Muslim rhetoric in Myanmar. In 2017, he was banned from preaching for one year for his fiery sermons against Muslims. He has also been banned by Facebook for his anti-Muslim posts.

Most recently, U Wirathu has attracted public criticism for incendiary comments—made at a pro-military rally—that the military-appointed representatives in Parliament “should be worshipped.” In another rally in southern Myanmar, the monk ridiculed the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with personal and obscene comments.

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