YANGON— Following the government’s early-morning Saturday raid on an anti-government protest camp in Mandalay set up by nationalist monks and laymen, six out of eight leading monks have been detained and charged with “Offence against the State or the Public Tranquility”—a Penal Code article punishable by two years’ imprisonment.
Mandalay Regional Police Force said eight leading monks and five laypersons had been on an arrest warrant since Friday but only six monks were arrested during Saturday’s raid, the rest are still at large.
The regional Police Chief Aung Soe Win told local media the police are “in pursuit” of the other individuals.
Several dozen nationalist monks and laymen had camped near Maha Muni Pagoda in Mandalay and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon since Wednesday afternoon, calling for the government to step down as it has failed to protect national interests and security.
Rather than attracting support, the protestors’ calls earned public condemnation for inflaming nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment derailing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led government’s reform process in the country.
On Saturday afternoon, Mandalay Chief Minister Dr. Zaw Myint Maug said during a press conference on the raid that the government had carried out the clearance operation “according to legal procedures.” Eleven monks and two women were arrested in Mandalay on Saturday.
“The reason behind their protest is not solid. We told them several times to disperse for what they were doing is unlawful. But our warnings fell on deaf ears,” he told reporters.
He added that the protestors had committed crimes covered by “several other charges,” but they have been charged with 505(b) of the Penal Code as the government wanted to tackle the situation as peacefully as possible.
The chief minister said he suspected there was someone behind the protests who wanted to “destabilize” the country, but said it was difficult to find out who.
Around 4 p.m. on Saturday in Yangon, when seven nationalist monks and about 30 supporters announced that they shut down their camp temporarily, local residents clapped in jubilation. The protestors shouted back with obscenities.
When asked how long they would postpone the protest, the nationalists failed to answer. “We protest because we want to criticize the government we love,” said one of the leading monks.
It’s not clear if Yangon protestors will be prosecuted with similar charges to their Mandalay counterparts.