John Zaw, Mandalay
Updated: September 23, 2019 08:52 AM GMT
Ashin Ariya Wun Tha Bhiwun Sa is seen at Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery in Mandalay on Feb. 23, 2018. (ucanews.com photo)
A prominent Myanmar monk who is involved in interfaith activities is facing a lawsuit over comments that allegedly defamed the military.
A lieutenant colonel from Mandalay’s Field Engineer Battalion has filed a lawsuit against Ashin Ariya Wun Tha Bhiwun Sa, better known as Myawaddy Sayadaw, with a court in Pyigyitagon township in Mandalay city.
It follows the monk’s comments to local media about donations of 30 million kyats (US$19,700) allegedly given by a senior military officer to hard-line nationalist group Ma Ba Tha.
“The nationalist group is working in partnership with the military, which is going against Buddhist rules,” he told media.
The monk said police have visited his monastery to question him about his comments.
The court is due to decide on Oct. 1 whether to proceed with the case. It remains unclear under what legal provisions the lawsuit has been filed.
Ariya Wun Tha said he is ready to defend his comments in court if the case proceeds. He said the military appear to fear him and are attempting to silence his voice. “I have no fear and will continue to tell the truth,” he told ucanews.com.
He accused the military of “worshiping ultranationalist monks who are preaching hate.” The military are only interested in defending their business interests, he said.
During an interview with ucanews.com in August, Ariya Wun Tha said the role of Buddhist monks is important as Myanmar transitions to democracy.
“We need to make our voices louder. Open criticism does not mean a divided community — it is to maintain Theravada Buddhism,” he said.
He is the third Mandalay-based monk to be targeted with a defamation lawsuit by the military. U Seindita was charged after criticizing the military’s guaranteed 25 percent share of seats in parliament, while U Thawbita was charged after criticizing military chief Min Aung Hlaing on Facebook.
Twenty-five colonels have filed defamation cases with police against 78 people — activists, satirical groups, journalists and monks — since 2016, according to Athan, a Yangon-based group that advocates freedom of expression.
Ariya Wun Tha is a vocal critic of Buddhist nationalism, the military and military-linked organizations and businesses.
He has been an active participant in interfaith activities across the country in collaboration with Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, another vocal supporter of peace, justice and the rights of minorities.
He was also among Buddhist leaders who held an interfaith meeting with Pope Francis in Yangon when the pope made a historic visit to the country in November 2017.