Myanmar & COVID-19

NLD Warns Yangon Chief Minister Over Breach of COVID-19 Rules

By Thiha Lwin 1 June 2020

NAYPYITAW—The National League for Democracy (NLD) has issued a warning to Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein for violating the government’s ban on mass gatherings by attending a Buddhist religious event in the last week of May, according to NLD spokesman Dr. Zaw Myint Maung.

The Yangon Region chief minister, his wife, members of his cabinet and other officials attended a Buddhist religious event at the riverside Botahtaung Pagoda in Yangon on May 24.

It included the launch of a raft carrying a statue of Shin Upagote—a fabled Buddhist monk who is believed to live on the high seas and protect worshippers from floods and storms—on the coast nearby, as well as the relocation of a number of Buddha idols and a life-sized statue of Mya Nan New, a spirit (or “Nat”) known for granting the wishes of those who whisper in her ears, so that some maintenance work could be done.

As curious onlookers joined the invited attendees, the number of people at the assembly swelled into the dozens, visibly breaching an order by the Myanmar President’s Office banning mass gatherings, which remains in effect until June 15, and defying the Health Ministry’s request that citizens not organize public events and avoid gathering in groups of more than four people.

“We warned him about it. We warned him to follow the rules set by the party’s Central Executive Committee [CEC] in the future,” Dr. Zaw Myint Maung told reporters in an online press conference on Sunday. U Phyo Min Thein is a member of the NLD CEC.

The party also urged regional and chief ministers to follow the orders, requests, instructions and suggestions issued by the National-Level Central Committee for COVID-19 Prevention, Control and Treatment, he said.

“Our fight against the coronavirus has been successful because members of the public follow the instructions. So, we urged them to follow orders, instructions and suggestions issued by the central committee,” said Dr. Zaw Myint Maung.

U Naing Ngan Lin, Yangon Region social affairs minister and chairman of the region’s COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee, attended the religious event together with the chief minister and told The Irrawaddy that the regional government would listen to the warning by the party’s CEC.

“We must listen to the party’s CEC. We have to comply. We will act according to the instructions of the Union government in the future,” said U Naing Ngan Lin.

Government spokesman U Zaw Htay told reporters in an online press conference Saturday that the President’s Office asked the Yangon regional government to explain the gathering and said that the government will take action depending on the chief minister’s explanation.

“No one should violate the instructions issued by the Health Ministry,” said U Yan Shin, Yangon regional lawmaker for Mayangone Township.

A South Dagon Township resident filed a complaint with the Botahtaung Township police station against eight individuals, including the chief minister, under the Natural Disaster Management Law last Friday. The police station has accepted the complaint and is waiting for the approval of the President’s Office to proceed.

Meanwhile, a local court in Mon State’s Kyaikmayaw Township recently sentenced a person to nine month in prison for defying the government’s ban on gatherings by organizing a Buddhist religious event. Similarly, the Chanmyathazi Township Court in Mandalay also sentenced 12 Muslim men to three months in prison for the same offence.

The Yangon regional COVID-19 Control and Emergency Response Committee has also filed lawsuits against four people, including pastor Saw David Lah, who organized religious gatherings that have been linked to at least 80 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yangon, including two deaths.

After the photos of U Phyo Min Thein and his cabinet members at the religious event went viral on social media, the chief minister hurried to tell the media that he had not broken any rules, only attracting further calls on social media for punitive action against him.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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