Union Gov’t Instructs Yangon Authorities to Prosecute Firebrand Monk

By The Irrawaddy 31 May 2019

YANGON—The government has ordered the Yangon regional government to prosecute ultranationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, according to Myanmar President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay.

Earlier this week Yangon Region Western District Court issued an arrest warrant against the monk, who is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. The warrant was issued after the chief of the General Administration Department’s district office, U San Min, filed a lawsuit accusing him of sedition under Article 124(a) of the Penal Code.

The allegation stems from a speech U Wirathu made at an anti-constitutional amendment rally in Yangon on May 5, in which he attempted to incite disaffection with the government.

Despite vowing to face arrest, the 50-year-old monk has been on the run since the warrant was issued.

Police in Mandalay went to the monk’s monastery in Maha Aung Myay Township on Wednesday evening, but did not find him.

On Friday, the President’s Office Spokesperson said the Yangon regional government was ordered by “the administration” to charge U Wirathu. “The prosecution was carried out by the regional government,” he said. When asked if the order came from the President’s Office or the Union government, the spokesperson declined to comment.

Since Wednesday, the police have been combing Yangon in search of the monk. If he is prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine.

His arrest will mark the government’s second legal move against U Wirathu. In 2017, he was banned from preaching for one year for his fiery sermons against Muslims. He has also been banned by Facebook for his anti-Muslim posts.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government came to power in 2016, the monk and other nationalists have staged pro-military campaigns across the country. They oppose the major constitutional amendments proposed by the NLD, though the changes are supported by a majority of the country’s population, who believe the current military-drafted charter is unfit for the democratic federal Union the country is transitioning to.

At the same time, the nationalists praise the Myanmar military as the guardian of the country and of Buddhism, while condemning the West for its attempts to prosecute the military leadership on the Rohingya issue.

Apart from his anti-Muslim sermons, U Wirathu has attracted public criticism recently for his fiery comments at a pro-military rally that the military-appointed representatives in Parliament “should be worshipped.” In another rally in southern Myanmar, the monk ridiculed the country’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with personal and obscene comments.

In Yangon, nationalist forces, including monks, held a rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda on Thursday and Friday to show solidarity with U Wirathu while condemning his prosecution as unfair.

Asked about the latest development in U Wirathu’s case, the spokesperson said all necessary actions would be carried out “according to procedure.”

Currently, he said, police and religious affairs officials are trying to clarify the procedure for prosecuting U Wirathu. Buddhist monks in Myanmar are solely supervised by the State Sangha [Clerical] Council known as the Sangha Maha Nayaka, which is chaired by the country’s senior and most influential monks.

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