Religious Affairs Ministry Explores Allegations That Naypyidaw Protesters Were Paid     

By San Yamin Aung 23 May 2017

RANGOON— In a response to Saturday’s protest staged against the religious affairs minister U Aung Ko, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture questioned if and how the demonstration was funded—a warning to its organizers under a provision of the Peaceful Assembly Law.

Section 10 of the new Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law prohibits any act of paying, bribing or threatening people to participate in demonstrations; violators face a maximum of one month in prison.

In a statement dated May 22, the ministry referred to social media posts alleging that protesters were paid sums ranging from 7,000 (US$5) to 30,000 kyats ($22) for their participation, and that about 800 million kyats in total ($584,000) went toward organizing the demonstration.

The ministry asked where the money came from and how the money was used.

“We have seen Facebook posts that some protesters didn’t receive the cash contributions and faced financial difficulties in returning to their homes,” the statement said, inviting those to air their grievances on the issue to the ministry.

U Aung San Win, a spokesperson from the ministry, told The Irrawaddy that they had not yet received any complaints and would release further announcements on the issue on the ministry’s website.

About 300 nationalists and Buddhist monks from across Burma, along with roughly 2,700 of their supporters, traveled to the country’s capital of Napyidaw last week for the protest. They gathered at Shwe Nantha football grounds in Ottara Thiri Township, Naypyidaw, and protested against the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture, U Aung Ko.

U Sandar Thiri, from the Nationalist Buddhist Monks Organization in Mandalay, who led hundreds of protesters and supporters from Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin, said he had to spend around 2.8 million kyats ($2,444) for travel costs to Naypyidaw. He said he had received money from some donors and collected funds from the nationalists.

“I don’t know about other regions and places. But for the areas which I took accountability—Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin—we didn’t pay the protesters,” he said, denying the ministry’s accusation.

The Irrawaddy was not able to reach other organizers of the protest for comment.