‘I Will Face the Arrest’: U Wirathu

By Zarni Mann 29 May 2019

YANGON— Myanmar’s ultra nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu said he “will face the arrest” after a warrant for his arrest was issued on Tuesday.

He told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he is now in Yangon to have a meeting with the Yangon Region’s Sangha (Cleric) Council members who had summoned him to warn him against getting involved in secular affairs. It is scheduled for Thursday, and it’s likely that police will move to arrest him after the meeting.

“I still haven’t got any notification about the warrant. If they want to catch me, let them do. I will face it,” he said.

He added that as the government in power is a democratic one, he doesn’t expect a lengthy prison sentence.

“I don’t think they (the government) would be that brutal,” he said.

A district court in Yangon issued an arrest warrant against him for his attempts to excite disaffection towards the government, according to police.

A senior police officer in Naypyitaw told The Irrawaddy that Yangon’s Western District Court has issued the warrant under Article 124 (a) which is on sedition. If he is prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine.

The warrant came after recent comments made by the country’s religious affairs minister that the monk would be prosecuted for making personal and obscene comments about State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Long before his verbal attacks on the State Counselor, the monk has been known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, fanning racial and communal strife between Buddhists and Muslims across the country.

As of Tuesday night, despite the information shared about the arrest warrant, police said they haven’t officially received it yet and thus haven’t made an attempt to arrest the monk.

The arrest would be the second blow for U Wirathu made by the government. In 2017, he was banned from preaching for one year for his fiery sermons against Muslims. He was also banned by Facebook for his anti-Muslim posts.

Based in Ma Soe Yein Monastery in Mandalay, he rose to prominent after 2012 when bloody communal strife broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State. Following the violence, the country has seen a rise in nationalism, especially in anti-Muslim sentiment.

Having dubbed himself the Buddhist Bin Laden, U Wirathu has been at the forefront of the nationalist movement, and has suggested that Buddhist women marry monks or even with dogs rather than Muslims. He has actively encouraged Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses. He said the foundations of Myanmar’s majority religion were under assault and that Buddhists must be vigilant against the influence of other fundamentalist religions.

After 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 which 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.

U Wirathu recently said nationalists have asserted that the military-appointed representatives in Parliament “should be worshipped.” They accuse the current government of prioritizing human rights over the country’s majority religion, Buddhism. During a recent pro-military rally in southern Myanmar, the monk ridiculed the country’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with personal and obscene comments.

Earlier this month, Thai authorities in Phuket banned him from staging a sermon in the area fearing problems could arise from the event.

Correction: A previous version of this story referenced an outdated article of the Penal Code. The updated article stipulates a seven- to 20-year prison sentence for sedition.

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