Commentary

Is U Wirathu Above the Law?

By Aung Zaw 10 March 2017

It is 66(d) again. This time, the target is Myanmar Now chief correspondent Ko Swe Win, who was accused of insulting nationalist monk U Wirathu.

But the question many are asking is who will suppress U Wirathu, the controversial monk who promotes hate speech, instigates racial violence and recently voiced his praise for a high-profile assassination.

If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration cannot protect or defend Ko Swe Win and stop U Wirathu, the legitimacy and credibility of the government is in danger, as its popular mandate slips at an alarming rate among activists and ethnic minorities.

U Kyaw Myo Shwe, a follower of U Wirathu, recently opened a case under Burma’s Telecommunications Law against the Myanmar Now journalist at a police station in Mandalay—Burma’s second largest city where U Wirathu also lives.

Several political prisoners have been arrested and detained under the controversial law, which has been used to silence dissent.

Many suspect that U Wirathu, who leads the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement, receives backing from influential people, nationalists and some in the Buddhist spiritual community.

Under the previous government, U Wirathu led Ma Ba Tha and the 969 movement to oppose the expansion of Islam and boycott Muslim-owned shops in the predominantly Buddhist country.

In 2013 and 2014, Wirathu and some Ma Ba Tha members spread hate speech as violence erupted against the Muslim community, killing hundreds.

Powerful businessmen and high-ranking authorities backed the movement, some political observers suspect.

And while the nationalist monk does have supporters, many Burmese are disgusted by his words and actions.

On his Facebook, Ko Swe Win shared a Myanmar Now news story that stated that U Wirathu was no longer in the monkhood as he had thanked the assassins who killed U Ko Ni. Many Burmese Buddhists agree that U Wirathu is no longer a monk as he disgraced the essence of his religion.

In actuality, the Myanmar Now story quoted a senior abbot’s comments on U Wirathu.

The monk, known as U Seinda, said thanking and encouraging murder was an unforgivable offense in the monastic practice.

Ko Swe Win rightly questioned the rule of law in the country.

“I have to question the rule of law in a country where people who support an assassination and spread hate speech over the Internet go unpunished while people like me are being sued.”

There was some hope in July when Rangoon chief minister U Phyo Min Thein boldly declared that Ma Ba Tha was “unnecessary and redundant,” because there was already a state Sangha body in place to oversee the activities of monks and Buddhists across the country.

The 47-member Sangha committee said Ma Ba Tha was not a recognized Buddhist group. But then, nothing happened. Surprisingly, Parliament under the control of the NLD and lawmakers who were elected by the public has not discussed the issue of amending Article 66(d).

U Wirathu went back to his routine: spreading hate-speech on social media, receiving donations and praising extreme nationalism.

It is as if he and Ma Ba Tha have been operating with the state’s blessing or at least authorization. The NLD government seems toothless in the matter.

If the government cannot contain U Wirathu and protect or defend Ko Swe Win, the public will begin to question whether U Wirathu and his group are above the law. No doubt, many Burmese will lose faith and hope in the government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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