Anti-trafficking monk given 8 years

An eight-year prison sentence has been handed to a monk in Burma’s western Arakan state after judges found him guilty of political activism and “obscenity”.

The courtroom in Arakan state capital Sittwe also accused Monk Pyinyarsara of defaming Buddhist religion, misappropriating property and possession of foreign currency – all illegal under archaic Burmese laws. The sentence included a fine of 10,000 kyat (US$10) for a conviction under the Municipal Act.

Until his arrest in early August he had run the Mahamuni Buddha Wihara monastery in which he sheltered some 150 orphans who were victims of human trafficking. Details surrounding the arrest remain unclear, but reports at the time said that police had found “political papers and documents”. There children are now in the custody of the government’s Department of Social Welfare.

Dr Aye Maung, chairman of Rakhine [Arakan] Nationalities Development Party, which is competing in the 7 November elections in Arakan state, said the party was saddened by the sentencing.

The majority of trafficked Burmese children are thought to be sold to rackets in Thailand and other neighbouring countries to work as child beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation.

Statistics on the number of trafficked Burmese are hard to come by, but the US State Department has said in the past that annual figures could be in the thousands.

Pyinyarsara becomes the second Burmese monk in the space of three days to be handed a lengthy prison sentence. On 28 September, Monk Okkantha was given a 15-year sentence for taking part in an anti-elections campaign last year. His sentencing coincided with the three-year anniversary of the 2007 monk-led uprising.

Pyinyarsara’s sentencing brings the total number of monks behind bars in Burma to 257, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPPB). Many of these were rounded up following the September 2007 uprising, which became the biggest show of defiance against the ruling junta since the 1988 student protests.

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