Ma Ba Tha Spokesperson Pans Media, Says Group Are Not ‘Instigators’

By Lawi Weng 2 October 2015

RANGOON — A spokesperson for Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha said on Friday that foreign media did not understand Burmese culture and refuted suggestions of a tacit alliance with the country’s ruling party.

Over 100 people, including media, Buddhist monks and supporters, attended the group’s press conference in Rangoon’s Insein Township.

The monks took questions from a throng of local and foreign reporters, with the nationalist group’s depiction in the international press an issue it appeared at pains to address.

“The foreign media does not understand our culture. Why don’t they report truly, not based on their emotion and not based on one point of view?” said Ashin Dhamma Piya, a Ma Ba Tha spokesperson who addressed reporters in English.

“Why do you guys only point to our Ma Ba Tha as [the source] of problems in the country? We are not instigators. We are a peaceful organization who uphold mitta, kayuna and mutida,” he said, using the Pali words for loving kindness, compassion and joy at another’s success.

Friday’s press conference came two days before the group plans to hold a rally at Rangoon’s Thuwanna Stadium on Oct. 4—the culmination of several weeks of events convened across the country to celebrate what Ashin Dhamma Piya described as the “milestone” passage of the controversial Race and Religion Protection Laws.

The rallies have drawn controversy, with several speakers urging crowds not to vote for the country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), accusing it of being anti-Buddhist.

In response, the NLD filed a number of complaints with the Union Election Commission last month, accusing Ma Ba Tha, also known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, of using religion to influence the electorate.

On Friday, Ashin Dhamma Piya was asked about the group’s relationship with the Union Solidarity and Development Party and whether it would take action against those distributing pamphlets at Ma Ba Tha rallies attacking the NLD.

“We did not form our Ma Ba Tha for the USDP. We formed Ma Ba Tha to protect religion and work for national politics,” he said, adding that the group would welcome whichever side emerged on top following the country’s Nov. 8 election.

When a freelance journalist, referring to an article in The Irrawaddy, asked whether Ma Ba Tha members had violated the election law by urging voters to abandon the NLD, Ashin Dhamma Piya criticized the media.

“The Irrawaddy media website never writes good things about us. They write only bad things,” he said.