Myanmar monks have been collecting signatures for a petition to take legal action against a domestic media reporter whom they accuse of insulting an outspoken and controversial figure in the country’s ultranationalist Buddhist movement.
Members of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union (PMMU) in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay have collected about 40,000 signatures from monks and nuns opposing Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the online news organization Myanmar Now, for allegedly insulting Ashin Wirathu, a prominent monk in the Ma Ba Tha movement, who is known for his fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“Swe Win said U [honorific] Wirathu is a criminal and not a monk anymore,” said PMMU vice chairman Eaindawbatha.
“Because U Wirathu is a patron monk from the Masoeyein Monastery in Myanmar, which is the biggest monastic school for young monks, his [Swe Win’s] comments have insulted not only U Wirathu, but also all Buddhist monks,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We have collected signatures and will ask for legal action to be taken against Swe Win because all Buddhists are disappointed about what he said [about Wirathu],” Eaindawbatha said.
The PMMU monks, who started collecting signatures on March 20, will end their activity on April 3 and submit the signatures to Mandalay’s Regional Religion Department the following day, he said.
In a Feb. 28 Facebook post, Swe Win criticized Wirathu for praising the brutal murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and critic of Myanmar’s powerful military, who was shot on Jan. 29 as he held his grandson outside Yangon ¬airport.
The reporter said Wirathu had “committed a major violation of parajika [the Buddhist monastic code]” by doing so.
In response, Wirathu demanded an apology from Swe Win within a week.
Kyaw Myo Shwe, a Ma Ba Tha member and follower of Wirathu, then filed a lawsuit against Swe Win under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which prohibits use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for violators.
Kyaw Myo Shwe withdrew the complaint in early March after being pressured by his family to do so.
On March 10, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka (Ma Ha Na), a government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks that oversees and regulates the Buddhist clergy in Myanmar, barred Wirathu from making public speeches for one year for using hate speech against religions to cause communal strife and hinder efforts to uphold the rule of law.
Religious authorities in Mandalay warned Wirathu that if he did not adhere to the year-long ban on making public speeches, they would take action against him.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.