Myanmar bans 'Buddhist terror' edition of TIME magazine
Government says article would inflame hatred
The Myanmar government officially banned the latest Asia edition of TIME magazine yesterday, claiming that the cover article, featuring hardline Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, could inflame religious hatred.
Featuring the headline ‘the face of Buddhist terror’ under a picture of the Mandalay monk, the magazine has already sparked condemnation from Wirathu himself and Buddhists in the country, some of whom have signed an online petition condemning TIME.
The government went a step further yesterday in banning the magazine in what is the first instance of outright state-sanctioned media censorship since the reformist administration disbanded its draconian press scrutiny board last year.
“TIME magazine’s July 1 issue is prohibited from being produced, sold or distributed in original, copied or photocopied [form] in order to prevent further racial and religious conflicts,” presidential spokesman Ye Htut said on his Facebook page yesterday.
The announcement was printed in the state press today which followed an angry response from the president’s office on Monday, claiming that the TIME article tarnished the reputation of Myanmar’s majority religion.
The article describes Wirathu as the figurehead of a hardline anti-Muslim campaign in Myanmar fueled over the past year by tensions between Buddhists and minority Muslim Rohingyas in western Rakhine state which have spread to other areas of the country leaving hundreds dead.
Wirathu welcomed the government’s move to ban the latest edition of TIME.
“I hope the president will continue to safeguard me in the future as well,” he said on his Facebook page.
Wirathu was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2003 after he was found guilty of inciting racial hatred against Muslims under the former military regime. He was then freed under a presidential amnesty last year.
Since then the government has not taken any action against the Mandalay-based monk, fueling suspicions that senior government officials back his anti-Muslim ‘969’ movement, according to observers, or at least tolerate it in a bid to avoid antagonizing the majority Buddhist population.
However, the government-backed Human Rights Commission said yesterday that it disapproved of a recently proposed marriage law by Wirathu and other monks, designed to prevent Buddhist women from marrying men of other faiths if they do not convert to Buddhism.
“I disagree with the proposed law,” said Sit Myaing, commission secretary. “Under the constitution, everyone has the right to religious freedom. It is important that there is mutual respect among members of the different religions.”
Wirathu has claimed that the proposed law simply prevents Buddhist women from forcible conversion to Islam, rather than restricting religious freedom.
He is scheduled to take part in a large conference of monks who plan to discuss the law in Yangon tomorrow, part of an effort which includes a petition targeting three million signatures which Wirathu and his supporters hope to present to parliament.
“It’s my dream since 2001 and it’s merely protecting our Buddhist people. So I will continue to fight for it,” he said.
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