YANGON—The fugitive nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu will be tried in absentia on sedition charges as the monk has been on the run despite a warrant for his arrest issued late last month.
Yangon’s Western District Court issued the sedition arrest warrant after Yangon regional government filed a case against him under Article 124 (a) of the Penal Code for his attempts to his incite disaffection with the government. If he is prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine.
On Tuesday, the court announced that the case will go ahead without the defendant as his arrest warrant expires on Tuesday.
If the monk is prosecuted in absentia, he loses his right to defend himself in court against the plaintiffs’ testimonies, while anyone giving him refuge will be prosecuted with aiding and abetting. The Western District Court have summoned the prosecutor and their plaintiff for testimonies next week.
The court’s Tuesday announcement is the latest and toughest so far against U Wirathu. In 2016, Yangon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein publicly said that Ma Ba Tha—the Burmese acronym for a nationalist group also known as the Association to Protect Race and Religion, in which the monk has played a prominent role—was not necessary for Myanmar. Following his comments, Ma Ba Tha was outlawed by the state Ma Ha Na, Buddhist Sangha (cleric) authorities. In 2017, the monk was banned for one year from preaching sermon for his anti-Muslim teachings.
Immediately after the warrant was issued, U Wirathu said he would face the arrest; since then, however, he has been on the run.
However, through occasional video posts on VK—a Russian version of Facebook—the fugitive insists he will face charges only after meeting with Yangon Region’s Ma Ha Na, Sangha (Buddhist cleric) authorities.
Senior monks from the Ma Ha Na had summoned him for a warning session on May 30 but postponed the meeting without giving a reason.
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