Mandalay – Pyigyitagon Township Court granted bail Thursday to a Myawaddy Mingyi monastery monk who is facing a lawsuit for criticizing the military in an interview with Yangon’s Khit Thit website.
Lieutenant Colonel Thawdar Dwe from the Mandalay-based Field Engineer Battalion filed the lawsuit against Sayadaw U Arriyawuntha, the Buddhist abbot at Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi monastery in September under Article 500 of the penal code for defamation, which could be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment.
“The lawsuit clearly shows the military is trying to block criticism. But I will not stop and I will continue with what I have to do,” said Sayadaw U Arriyawuntha outside of the court.
The abbot, also known as Myawaddy Mingyi Sayadaw, appeared at the court for the first time today.
At the next court hearing on Nov. 22, the court will begin hearing from five witnesses from the plaintiff, including a representative from Khit Thit media.
The Khit Thit chief editor told journalists that he would not appear in court.
“I’ve sent a complaint to the court that Khit Thit media should not attend the court as the plaintiff’s witness due to media ethics. But I don’t know what will happen and we will need to wait for the court’s decision at the next hearing,” said Ko Thar Lun Zaung Htet of Khit Thit media.
The accusations against the abbot are based on his comments, which were published online in June by Khit Thit, over a 30-million-kyat (nearly US$20,000) donation by a military commander to the Buddha-Dhamma Parahita Foundation (BDP), which changed its name from Ma Ba Tha, the ultranationalist group.
The abbot said the BDP contravened religious rules and was receiving financial support from the military, which was looking to block democratic reforms.
Calling the military a robber and a thief, the abbot said the armed forces had a bad background, defied presidential laws, bullied the people using weapons and took seats in Parliament without winning an election.
“That nationalist group is partnering with an organization that is going against the rules of Buddhist monks,” the abbot reportedly said on June 21.
Sayadaw U Arriyawuntha has worked with peace and interfaith groups in Mandalay and the National League for Democracy.
He is also a strong critic of nationalist monks, the military, their supporters and military-backed organizations and businesses.
The military regularly uses Section 505 of the Burma Penal Code and the Telecommunication Act’s Article 66(d) to sue critics, accusing them of defamation.
U Sein Ti Ta, another Buddhist monk from Mandalay, is also being sued by a military officer under Article 66(d).