Nationalists Renew Protest Against Religion Minister

By Zarni Mann 26 June 2017

Mandalay — Nationalists gathered in Myanmar’s two biggest cities to call for the resignation of the religious affairs minister U Aung Ko on Sunday.

The protesters in Mandalay and Yangon were rallying as they said the government had ignored the list of demands they laid out at a demonstration in Naypyitaw last month.

The demands included the acquittal of a number of nationalists guilty or accused of crimes, the lifting of a nationwide preaching ban on ultranationalist monk U Wirathu, imposed because of his religious hate speech, and an apology from U Aung Ko.

They claim the minister is neglecting Buddhism and favoring Islam, but the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture questioned the authenticity of the protest, alleging that demonstrators were paid to attend.

More than 200 Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople rallied at Manawyaman grounds in Mandalay on Sunday, holding placards and shouting slogans that accused U Aung Ko of influencing the state Buddhist authority the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee.

“Since the ministry did not follow our demands in the one month that we gave, we are here to urge for the resignation of the minister again,” said U Eaindaka, vice president of the Patriotic Young Monks Union.

The protests would continue, he said, if the government continued to ignore the demands.

“Our demands are the demands of every citizen, so the government authorities should listen,” he said. “The minister is not protecting or supporting the wellbeing of Buddhism enough. He did many things to sadden us, the Buddhists, by oppressing the Buddhist monks.”

U Eaindaka said articles 361 and 362 of the 2008 military-drafted Constitution declare Buddhism as the national religion and grant other religions the freedom to worship.

But the minister said other religions’ freedom to worship should be respected, claimed U Eaindaka, adding that Buddhism is the “host” and should be respected by all other religions, which are “visitors” in the country.

On the same day outside City Hall in Yangon, roughly 200 people, including monks, protested the same message as the nationalists in Mandalay.

The protesters listed six demands similar to the demands announced in Naypyitaw last month and gave the government seven days to respond to them.

If the government does not respond, they threaten to camp outside Yangon’s City Hall.