Muslim Leader Files Suit Against Ex-Officer for ‘Hate Speech’ Against Islam

By Htun Htun 6 August 2019

YANGON—Muslim spiritual leader U San Aung said he is in the process of filing a lawsuit against U Hla Swe, an ex-military officer who represented the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the country’s Upper House under the U Thein Sein administration, accusing him of hate speech against Islam.

U San Aung filed the lawsuit under Article 295(a) of the Penal Code with Mayangon Township Court on Tuesday, but the court ordered that the case be filed with the court in Kyauktada Township, where U Hla Swe spoke during a rally condemning the US’ imposition of sanctions against Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) leaders on Aug. 3 in front of Yangon City Hall.

The article criminalizes deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any group by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

“As a Muslim, I can’t accept that he said that the Prophet Muhammad would carry out a terrorist bomb attack. That’s why I am filing a complaint. No insult to any religion, including Buddhism, is acceptable. I want the law to be properly enforced,” U San Aung said.

During his Aug. 3 speech, U Hla Swe, who retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel to join the military’s proxy USDP before the 2010 general elections, said, “They [the US] can insult three out of four religions. But do they dare touch Muhammad? I doubt the US is that brave. If they do, Muhammad will bomb them with an airplane. They are afraid of that.”

“The court rejected a lawsuit against the US Embassy regarding a performance about the Buddha. If the court accepts the lawsuit filed by Muslims, I will ask the court why. I will see how the court will decide,” U Hla Swe told The Irrawaddy.

He was referring to a lawsuit filed by nationalist monk U Parmaukha over an art exhibition promotion that included an image of Buddha, created and shared by the US Embassy on its official Facebook page.

The monk filed a lawsuit against US Ambassador Scott Marciel, the artist who painted the picture and the person who posted the picture on the Facebook page for allegedly defaming Buddhism. But Kamayut Township rejected the lawsuit.

U San Aung said he filed a lawsuit with Bayintnaung Police Station in Mayangon Township on Monday, but the police said the case should be filed with the court.

He said he had received three phone threats on Tuesday morning. In one of them, he said, somebody asked him if he knew how many supporters the nationalist movement has.

U Hla Swe has appeared at rallies put on by the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation (formerly named Ma Ba Tha, the Burmese-language acronym for the Association to Protect Race and Religion, by which the group is still widely known).

Those convicted of violating Article 295(a) face two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

Local media outlets have also reported that an aide of former Lower House speaker and ex-General U Shwe Mann has also filed a lawsuit under Section 10 of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens with Naypyitaw’s police against U Hla Swe for posts he shared on social media. The offense carries a three-year prison term.