Interview: ‘We Have to Speak up for the Sake of the Country,’ Says Freed Monk

Myanmar’s Ven. Ariyabiwuntha was detained during the military coup on Feb. 1, and released in an Aug. 2 amnesty.
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Interview: ‘We Have to Speak up for the Sake of the Country,’ Says Freed Monk Ven. Ariyabiwuntha, the abbot of Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery in central Myanmar, in an undated photo.

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha, the abbot of Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery in central Myanmar, was arrested on Feb. 1 during the military coup d’état for criticizing the army’s interference in Myanmar’s political system. Ven. Ariyabiwuntha, who is also known as Myawaddy Mingyi Sayadaw, has been a long-time critic of the army’s influence on society. He was among scores of political detainees released in an amnesty on Monday that critics said was an attempt by the junta to win acceptance of its self-declared caretaker government. The abbot spoke to Soe San Aung of RFA’s Myanmar Service about his arrest, detention, release, and the political crisis in the country. Following are excerpts of the interview, edited for length and clarity:

RFA: Can you first tell us about the day you were arrested?

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha: About 20 policemen came to the monastery for the arrest. As usual, they said they wanted me to come with them to meet their superior officer. They held me at the police station for the night and the next day they read a warrant to me that I was charged under section 500 for defamation. 

I have been sued under this charge before and I have been on bail for the past year. I told them about this but it just fell on deaf ears. They tried to disrobe me and I told them this was unlawful. But they forced me as they could not refuse orders from above, and they sent me to the Mandalay Central Prison. They said they had arrested me for security reasons, so they must be feeling very insecure. I think it was unlawful because I have been on bail and I haven’t broken the rules in any way.

RFA: We heard from some monks who had been released that they were tortured in prison. Did you get beaten or tortured in the prison?

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha: No I didn’t. They might have done it to some other monks but not to me. Though they were carrying out their orders, they showed a lot of respect to me both at the police station and in prison. At first, I had to stay with other inmates in very poor conditions but later, the warden moved me to another place which was a lot more comfortable. It was more like a guest house although there were restrictions and rules to follow as an inmate.

RFA: Was it true that you were arrested because you were close to the State Counselor (Aung San Suu Kyi)?

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha: As a member of the Sangha (the Buddhist community), it is my duty to point out any wrongdoings by anyone. It would be wrong for the Sangha to remain quiet because of fear. It would also be wrong for the Sangha to keep quiet because they have been bribed. We cannot have fear. We must say, without fear, what is right and what is wrong and if they misunderstand it, we cannot help it. It’s like having two kids, one is good and the other is not. Then the parents will not have to say much to the good one but they will have to point out to the other about his wrongs, for his sake. It cannot be said that the parents are showing favor to the good one. It must have happened like that.

RFA: Did you have to sign any pledges or make promises before your release?

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha: No. I will not do anything unlawful, and if they ask me to make any promises I wouldn’t do it.

RFA: What are your plans for the future?

Ven. Ariyabiwuntha: Even though they disrobed me in prison, a monk is a monk because we have been ordained. The clothes don’t alter clerical status. We have been preaching about justice and democracy and human rights as good practices for people in accordance with the Dharma. But they see it as doing politics. It is the duty of the Sangha to teach people to do the right things and avoid evil. It is not easy to confront dictatorship, but we have to speak up for the sake of the country.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane.


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