Burma

Military Hospitals Host Blood Drives to Mark Fugitive Monk’s Birthday

By De Hlaing Winn 26 June 2019

MANDALAY—Military hospitals in Yangon and Mandalay regions opened their doors to supporters of fugitive ultranationalist monk U Wirathu on Wednesday, holding blood donation ceremonies in commemoration of his 51st birthday.

The monk has been on the run since late last month after the government issued an arrest warrant against him—under Article 124(a) of the Penal Code—for his attempt to incite disaffection with the government. If he is prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine. The monk has long been known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and is banned from Facebook for his hate speech.

On Wednesday, nearly 400 followers, Buddhist monks and laypersons flocked to military hospitals in Yangon’s Mingalardon Township and Mandalay’s Pyin Oo Lwin, according to the hospitals and donation organizers.

Pictures showed medical staffers at Pyin Oo Lwin’s Military Hospital attending to blood donors while a large poster announcing the mass blood donation and carrying U Wirathu’s picture hung on the wall.

“Everyone participating in the blood drives is a supporter of U Wirathu. They are patriots,” said Ashin Ariya Vunsa, one of the organizers.

A mass blood donation ceremony is held at Yangon’s Military Hospital No. 1 to commemorate nationalist monk U Wirathu’s 51st birthday. / The Irrawaddy

The mass donations at the military hospitals were the latest in a series of events held by Buddhist nationalists, who previously took part in pro-military campaigns to show their solidarity with Myanmar’s armed forces when the military was under international pressure over its actions against the Rohingya. Recently, the commander of Yangon Region, Major General Thet Pone, personally donated nearly US$20,000 (about 30 million kyats) to the leading Buddhist nationalist group formerly known as Ma Ba Tha, which has denounced the government for its prosecution of U Wirathu. The military defended the cash donation, saying that the group is necessary and should be supported in the name of Buddhism.

Regarding the blood donations, U Aung Ko Win, another organizer, told The Irrawaddy that their initial plan was to hold mass donations not only at military hospitals but also in public hospitals in Mandalay. However, Mandalay General Hospital (MGH) rejected their request for being “not in line with official procedures.”

An official from MGH said the hospital denied the request based on its blood donation guidelines, which require donors to submit applications one month in advance.

On Wednesday, U Wirathu’s supporters managed to donate blood at Mandalay Women’s Hospital despite neither identifying themselves as the monk’s followers nor informing hospital officials that they were holding a drive to celebrate his birthday.

Military spokesperson Major-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that military hospitals are normally open for mass blood donations regardless of who the donors are.

“U Wirathu’s birthday—or whatever the case—we have to welcome anyone who wants to donate blood,” he said.

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