Warrant issued for ultranationalist Myanmar monk

U Wirathu is accused of inciting communal hatred, with witnesses testifying while he has been in hiding
Warrant issued for ultranationalist Myanmar monk

Buddhist monks attend the annual meeting of the ultranationalist group Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, previously known as Ma Ba Tha, in Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon on June 17. (Photo by Sai Aung/AFP)

A court in Myanmar has ruled that ultranationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu must come out of hiding within a month to face a charge of sedition.

On July 9, the western district court in commercial hub Yangon ordered that an arrest warrant be posted at his monastery in the northern city of Mandalay.

So far, nine witnesses have testified against the firebrand monk while U Wirathu has been in hiding.

Three weeks ago, U Wirathu was accused of sedition for making speeches that attacked Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

The sedition law prohibits anyone from provoking disaffection, hatred or contempt towards the government and can result in life prison sentences being imposed.

Kyaw Nyein, a Yangon-based Muslim lawyer, said the warrant is equivalent to a wanted list which would be posted at various premises linked to U Wirathu as well as his monastery.

A Buddhist layman from Yangon, who did not want his name used by the media, described the case of U Wirathu as relatively minor compared to major problems facing Myanmar.

However, he suggested that "political opportunists" behind the activist monk might seek to use his prosecution to fuel militant community nationalism.

Aung Ko, a government minister responsible for religion and culture, said people who do not observe the morals and religious beliefs of the Buddhist clergy do not deserve to  be in the monkhoood.

"Those [monks] involved in affairs not related to religion are causing confusion and tarnishing the image of Buddhism," the minister said in a statement released June 15.

Political agitation by militant monks threatens national stability, Aung Ko added.

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

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

U Wirathu was the leader of the now-defunct ultranationalist Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha. He was barred from giving sermons for one year in March 2017 due to his hate speech and banned from Facebook in January 2018 because of incendiary posts.

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