YANGON—Buddhist nationalists gathered in downtown Yangon on Monday to pray for the safety of fugitive nationalist monk U Wirathu and for an end to oppression against monks and Buddhism, the religion followed by the majority of the country’s population.
U Wirathu is to be charged with sedition and a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Yangon regional government on May 28. The monk is being charged under Article 124 (a) of the Penal Code for 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. The monk has been on the run since.
On Monday, several hundred nationalists, led by a group of Buddhist monks, rallied from the Shwedagon Pagoda to Sule Pagoda in downtown where they gathered for around 20 minutes. The monks chanted metta, for the proliferation of loving kindness in the country and mayura sutta, for the safety of U Wirathu. Buddhists believe that chanting mayura sutta helps bring safety to a person and deters arrest.
The nationalists then shouted, “Long live Buddhism,” “Be safe U Wirathu” and “Freedom from oppression for Buddhism and its monks.”
Since the rise of Buddhist nationalism in the country in 2012, the right-wing have claimed that Myanmar’s Buddhist foundations are under assault and that Buddhists need to be vigilant about the influence of other fundamentalist religions, they say. They also reiterate that the government has prioritized human rights over Buddhism. They see the arrest warrant for U Wirathu as a form of oppression against the country’s Sangha, the Buddhist clergy.
U Teza Vuntha, a monk leading the rally and a member of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Association, told The Irrawaddy that the event was organized by some nationalists who had a common vision of Buddhism.
He said Buddhist monks today no longer dare to work for the protection of race and religion due to the government’s oppression.
“Look at U Wirathu, the prosecution against him for his criticism of the government. He was sued under Article 124 (A). It’s clearly oppression against us,” he said.
When asked if the rally was held with government permission, the monk replied that it was not. In Myanmar, all public demonstrations require official permission, without which organizers can be sentenced to three to 12 months in prison.
The Monday rally is the latest of a series of rallies since the arrest warrant was issued for U Wirathu. Prior to today, nationalists have staged protests in Yangon, Mandalay as well as other areas.
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