Anti-Muslim monk faces sedition charge in Myanmar

U Wirathu, dubbed the 'Burmese Bin Laden,' has been targeted for criticizing Suu Kyi after years of riot-fueling hate speech
Anti-Muslim monk faces sedition charge in Myanmar

Myanmar's Buddhist monks march along a street during a demonstration against the planned repatriation of Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh, in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe in this Nov. 25, 2018 file photo. (AFP photo) 

Ultra-nationalist monk U Wirathu has been accused of sedition for speeches attacking Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, with a local court reportedly already having issued a warrant for his arrest.

U Wirathu has also railed against religious minorities and especially Muslims, deepening the social divide in the Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation where Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted by mobs and the military.

Ashin Ariya Wun Tha Bhiwun Sa, a Buddhist monk from Mandalay, said he should have been put behind bars years ago, calling his criticism of both Muslims and Suu Kyi "unacceptable."

"Due to his notorious hate speech, Buddhism in Myanmar has been tarnished," said Ashin Bhiwan Sa, who regularly joins interfaith activities in a bid to help reconcile the nation's fragile society.

"He undermines all the good work monks have done both here and in the international community."

A government official filed the suit against U Wirathu at the Yangon Western district court on May 28, according to police spokesman Myo Thu Soe.

This came just days after Myanmar's religious and cultural affairs said officials were gathering evidence against the controversial monk.

The sedition law prohibits anyone from exciting disaffection, hatred or contempt toward the government, and can lead to a life sentence.

Thein Than Oo, a Mandalay-based human rights lawyer, said U Wirathu has been spreading hate speech since at least 2013, adding somebody had to stop him.

"This will really test the validity of the rule of law in our country," he said. "Let's see if the police can successfully detain and prosecute him, like all those (innocent) activists who have been charged and jailed."

Thein Than Oo, a former political prisoner, said he would be closely monitoring the situation.

Ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu delivers a speech during a rally to show the support to the Myanmar military in Yangon on October 14, 2018. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

 

U Wirathu was reportedly visiting Yangon in the last week of May to meet members of the State Sangha Council, who had summoned him there to warn him not to get involved in secular affairs, according to local media.

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"I still haven't received any notification of an arrest warrant. If they want to catch me, they can. I will deal with it," U Wirathu told The Irrawaddy newspaper on May 29.

His brand of extreme Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric helped to fuel riots that erupted nationwide from 2013 to 2014.

In January 2017, he praised the alleged architects of a plot to assassinate Ko Ni, a high-profile Muslim lawyer, hailing them as defenders of race and religion in Myanmar.

Two months later, the Sangha Council barred him from giving sermons for a year.

U Wirathu, referred to by some as the "Burmese Bin Laden," has since returned to public life, including publicly supporting military generals accused of genocide over a brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

His rhetoric has shifted more recently from espousing anti-Muslim sentiment to emphasizing a pro-military stance and criticizing Suu Kyi and the performance of her government.

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