Yangon Chief Minister Serious About Wirathu Prosecution This Time

By The Irrawaddy 6 June 2019

YANGON—Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein of the Yangon government said his administration will take seriously the prosecution of Buddhist nationalist monk U Wirathu, for whom an arrest warrant was recently issued for sedition by the Yangon regional government.

The monk has been on the run since the warrant was issued on May 28.

The chief minister told media in Yangon on Wednesday that U Wirathu had bad-mouthed what state leaders are currently carrying out, referring to a speech the monk gave at a May 5 anti-constitutional amendment rally.

Since early this year, the NLD-led civilian government has been trying to fix the country’s current constitution, which was drafted by the previous military regime. With provisions that grant some privleges to the military, the charter has been criticized as undemocratic.

“We have found it improper and sought permission from the Union government to proceed with the action,” he said, referring to the national government. “Let me assure you that we take this seriously.”

This is the second instance of the Yangon chief minister responding punitively to nationalists associated with U Wirathu and his movement. In 2016, 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. But that crackdown proved ineffective, as the group’s subchapters have continued to operate with impunity across the country, under the guise of names like the Patriotic Force and the Patriotic Buddhist Monks.

Myanmar President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said last week that the national government has already given U Phyo Min Thein the green light in his latest move against U Wirathu.

The monk was charged under Article 124 (a) of the Penal Code for his attempting to incite disaffection with the government. If he is prosecuted under the article, he faces seven to 20 years in prison, or a fine.

Immediately after the warrant was issued, the monk said he would face the arrest; since then, he has been on the run.

However, through occasional video posts on VK—a Russian version of Facebook—the fugitive insists he will face the 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 have postponed the meeting without giving a reason.