A group of nationalist Buddhist monks in Myanmar plan to set up a radio station to protect and disseminate their religion, despite fears that they will use it as a platform to foment anti-Muslim sentiment.
Members of the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, better known as Ma Ba Tha, want to use the station to spread the Buddha’s teachings in the predominantly Buddhist country, said the group’s senior monk Parmaukkha.
“It [setting up the radio station] is according to our discipline or code of conduct because we are doing this to protect and spread our religion, not to get involved in conflicts and hatred,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
He added that Ma Ba Tha is in the process of trying to get a broadcast license and searching for a place to establish the radio station.
Buddhists monks from Thailand have thrown their support behind the project, offering to set up the station for them because they like what Ma Ba Tha has done for Buddhism in Myanmar, Parmaukkha said.
Ma Ba Tha has pushed for controversial "protection of religion" laws in Myanmar and protested against ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims, whom the government refers to as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In May, more than 1,000 monks and other activists staged a protest in the commercial capital Yangon, urging the government not to accept the stateless Rohingya, some of whom were among the boatloads of migrants found adrift in the sea near Myanmar.
The United Nations estimates that about 130,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since a violent and deadly clash with majority Buddhists in mid-2012. Others, who were displaced by the violence, remain housed in camps in the country’s western Rakhine state.
At the time, Parmaukkha had told RFA that the monks were repeating their call for the government to never accept the Rohingya and other boat people.
No policy of hatred
When asked if the group would use the radio station as a platform to speak out against other religions, Parmaukkha said the monks do not harbor a policy of hatred, which would go against Buddhist teachings.
“We don’t have any policy of hatred,” he said. “According to Buddha’s teachings, we can’t even kill an ant. Our policy is a nonviolent one, and it prohibits us from killing anyone. Even when we have conflicts in our society, our policy is to resolve them in a peaceful manner. That’s why we can’t have any conflicts because of this radio station.”
But Ye Htut, the information minister and presidential spokesman, said the government would not permit the monks to create a radio station.
“No, no way. We can’t allow them to do it because we don’t have a broadcast law yet,” he told a Myanmar newspaper last week, when asked whether the government planned to grant the monks a radio license.
The country’s current seven FM radio stations have joint-venture business agreements with state-owned Myanmar Radio, which is under the purview of the Ministry of Information.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.