NLD Member Denied Bail at Religious Offence Trial

By Zarni Mann 17 December 2014

MANDALAY — Spurned by his party and vilified by nationalist groups, prominent columnist Htin Lin Oo has now been denied bail and is in custody on charges of offending religious feeling.

The author, who was sacked from his position as an information officer for the National League for Democracy (NLD) after he was denounced by Buddhist organizations, appeared at the Chaung-U Township court in Sagaing Division on Wednesday.

“The court said he can apply for bail and he prepared the application,” said Thein Than Oo, his lawyer. “But when he submitted it, the court refused it suddenly and told him he would be detained.”

“The power to grant bail rests in the hand of the court. He is not a serious criminal. To detain him like this is too much,” he added.

Htin Lin Oo has been charged under Article 295a of the penal code, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings”, and Article 298, which bans “uttering words […] with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings”. Both charges are punishable by fines or custodial sentences of two years and 12 months respectively. He has been transferred to Monywa Prison and will next appear before court on Dec. 24.

According to lawyers and the local journalists, approximately 30 Buddhist monks and up to 50 of their supporters intimidated a group of journalists gathered outside the court building.

“The group took our pictures and behaved belligerently. A female journalist was surrounded by them for a while and now she is afraid to write the news,” said a journalist at the scene, who requested not to be named. “They even asked our names, the names of our organizations and threatened us by telling us we could not cover the trial without permission from the authorities.”

At a literary event in Chaung-U Township on Oct. 23, Htin Lin Oo delivered a speech, during which he criticized the use of Buddhism as a tool for discrimination and extreme nationalism.

An excerpt of his speech was widely shared over social media, leading to condemnation from nationalist monks and affiliated groups. The NLD launched an investigation after a statement by the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union urged the party to take disciplinary action, leading to Htin Lin Oo’s dismissal as information officer.

Tun Khaing, an official from the Department of Immigration’s office in Chaung-U Township, filed a lawsuit against Htin Lin Oo last week under Articles 295a and 298.

At the time, U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based monk and prominent member of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, said that his organization had planned to sue Htin Lin Oo before Tun Khaing took action.