Politics, World, Asia - Pacific

Myanmar: Anti-Muslim monk now faces defamation charge

Days after Wirathu's nationalist group labeled unlawful, complaint filed against him for slandering top UN official

14.07.2016
Myanmar: Anti-Muslim monk now faces defamation charge File Photo

Yangon

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar

A notorious firebrand monk whose hate speech has helped fuel attacks on Myanmar's Muslim community faces a defamation charge, days after the ultranationalist group he belongs to was labeled an unlawful association under monastic law.

An official from Tarmwe Township’s police station confirmed to Anadolu Agency on Thursday that a community-based organization had filed a complaint against Wirathu for a speech in which he insulted a top United Nations official in 2015.

“Win Aung from from the so-called Thet Taw Saung [bodyguard] group asked us to open a defamation case against U Wirathu on Tuesday night,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone.

If the country’s religious authority approves the charge -- as a monk, Wirathu is banned from making slander or attacking others -- he faces up to two years imprisonment, a fine, or both.

In January, Wirathu called UN Human Rights Envoy Yanghee Lee a “whore” for demanding the government give citizenship to the around one million Rohingya Muslim in the country.

Following years of violence, most of the ethnic group live in internally displaced people camps in western Rakhine State, where they have been described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minorities on earth.

Wirathu is one of the most vociferous members of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (better known as Ma Ba Tha).

The group has been seen as deliberately stoking the flames of religious hatred against the country's Muslims, with Wirathu blaming them for communal conflicts, and accusing them of attempting to "Islamize" the country of 57 million people.

On Wednesday, Wirathu accused Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of trying to destroy Ma Ba Tha after a government-sponsored committee -- the State Sangha Mahayanaka Committee -- deemed it an unlawful association under Sangha (monastic) law.

Ma Ba Tha has set itself up as a regulating body enforcing religion in the predominantly Buddhist country -- in direct opposition to the state body -- and was instrumental in the previous government establishing a set of controversial laws connecting race and religion. 

“This woman dictator’s administration is trying to put me in jail,” Wirathu said on his Facebook page.

A media report also claimed Wednesday that the country's minister of religious affairs and culture, Thura Aung Ko, had asked the Sangha committee -- also known as Ma Ha Na -- to take action against hate speech by monks.

“I requested Mahana’s head monks to stop or take action against monks or others who make hate speeches that can incite bad blood between people or conflicts,” Thura Aung Ko was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia.

“Because it is very important that we have stability and development in the country.”

Since mid-2012, communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine has left around 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists dead, some 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

The impoverished region is also home to other Muslims, such as the Kaman. Unlike the Rohingya, the Kaman is officially recognized as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups.

Since her party's victory in the Nov. 8 election, Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country's Buddhist traditions.

Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that the root of many of Rakhine's problems are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn the National League for Democracy hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.


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