A Buddhist monk sought by authorities for defaming Myanmar’s top military commander on Facebook turned himself in to police on Friday and was quickly released on bail.
U Thawbita, the founder of a charity in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, had been sued on Sept. 22 under Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act for his online posts criticizing military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the role of the country’s powerful military in politics.
Dozens of monks and activists from the 88 Generation Open Society Group were present at the Amarapura township police station to show their support for Thawbita, who was away from his monastery in Amarapura when police came looking for him, sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service on Sept. 28, U Aung Thane—Thawbita’s attorney and a member of the Myanmar Lawyers Network—said that the monk has now been freed on bail.
“I asked a police officer about his case, and the officer said that he is free on bail. His trial will be held next month,” he said.
In an interview given to RFA while still in hiding, Thawbita said that he had never sought to avoid trial by going on the run.
“I have been planning to face trial ever since I heard that I was charged on Sept. 22, but policemen, soldiers, and other authorities raided my monastery as if they were arresting a common criminal,” Thawbita said.
“I went into hiding so that I could prepare for whatever is facing me now, because this is not the way to take action against someone charged under Section 66(d),” he said.
Government officials, military officers, and high-ranking monks have increasingly been invoking Section 66(d) to attack journalists or commentators who criticize them or their actions. Free-speech advocates have called for the repeal of the vaguely worded article.
Reported by Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.