RANGOON — Columnist and National League for Democracy (NLD) information officer Htin Lin Oo has been widely condemned on social media after speaking against religious nationalism in a public speech last month.
The Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union released a statement on Saturday denouncing a speech the prominent author gave to over 500 people at a literary event in Sagaing Division’s Chaung-U Township on Oct 23, leading to an avalanche of online criticism.
In the statement, the group urged opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take responsibility for Htin Lin Oo’s speech and to prevent community conflicts from disgracing the NLD’s image.
“In the past, NLD was the party which all Burmese citizens relied upon, supported and respected,” read the statement. “But deliberately offending people who do not support the NLD anymore for various reasons would lead to a great blow to the NLD’s image.”
The group could not be reached for comment on Monday.
In a speech spanning two hours, Htin Lin Oo criticized the use of Buddhism as a figleaf for prejudice and discrimination.
“Buddha is not Burmese, not Shan, not Karen—so if you want to be an extreme nationalist and if you love to maintain your race that much, don’t believe in Buddhism,” he said at the time.
A 10-minute excerpt of the speech has been widely shared on social media in the wake of the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union statement. Htin Lin Oo said that stripping this portion of the speech from the rest of his remarks has led to widespread misunderstanding about his intent.
“In our country, the race and religion issue is very sensitive,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “I talked about that in my speech, and there was coherence in my speech at the start and the end, but the uploaded video is excerpted.”
He said he was contacted by monks saying they had seen the excerpt and were offended by its content.
“I explained on my Facebook page about my speech. If the monks want me to speak further to them on this matter, I will join them,” he said.
Htin Lin Oo said that on Monday afternoon the NLD informed him they will form a team to investigate the speech. During the course of the investigation, he will be banned from public talks under the auspices of the NLD.
While there was fervent criticism online after the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union statement was released, other members of the religious fraternity were more conciliatory.
“We need to listen to the full speech,” said Sayadaw Ashin Issariya, a Mandalay-based monk and former political prisoner. “I have only seen and listened to the excerpted version from his speech. All he said was truth. In choosing the words, it is a little rough—I think it might be because he chose words for his audience to be able to understand easily.”
Although the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union claims it is based in Rangoon, it remains unclear whether the organization is actually based in the city, who belongs to the group, and whether it is legally registered.
The nationalist monk U Wirathu was among those who shared the group’s statement on social media.