Nationalists and Naypyidaw at odds over protest against religion minister

Nationalists and Naypyidaw at odds over protest against religion minister

A Buddhist nationalist organisation and local authorities in Naypyidaw are at loggerheads over a planned protest in the capital aimed at Burma’s minister for religious affairs and scheduled for tomorrow.

The Myanmar Buddhists Alerting Society had sought a permit to rally up to 15,000 nationalists on Saturday in Naypyidaw, but the Ottara District Administrator’s Office has announced that approval would only be granted for a much-reduced protest of 300 people.

The society’s Kyaw Myo Thet submitted the request, and told DVB, “The protest is against Thura U Aung Ko, Union minister for religious affairs and culture, for his intervention in a case in which Swe Win, Myanmar Now’s chief reporter, levelled allegations against Wirathu.”

Earlier this year, the award-winning reporter Swe Win shared a Facebook post in which an abbot claimed that Wirathu — a firebrand nationalist monk known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric — had disqualified himself from the monkhood because he had praised the assassins of senior National League for Democracy legal adviser Ko Ni, a Muslim who was gunned down in January. Swe Win subsequently saw two different lawsuits brought against him for allegedly defaming Wirathu, but in April the religion minister Aung Ko weighed in, stating that the cases did not have legal merit.

“We are protesting on the grounds of offences made to religion,” Kyaw Myo Thet said. “The allegations [made by Swe Win] not only offend U Wirathu personally, but also [offend] the religion.

“Also, even before the case had been brought to court, the Union minister issued a statement favouring Swe Win in advance. Because the minister did so, the case was set aside without Swe Win being charged with any criminal lawsuits. That is the reason we are going to protest.”

On Thursday, the organisers of the upcoming rally and officials from the Ottarathiri Township Administrator’s Office had a meeting to negotiate the protest permit’s parameters and managed to agree on a marching route and other details.

However, negotiations hit an impasse over the size of the crowd that would be allowed, with township authorities capping it at 300 protesters and organisers from the Myanmar Buddhists Alerting Society insisting that 15,000 participants be permitted. With the two sides refusing to budge on crowd size, the negotiations broke down, according to the Ottara District Administrator’s Office.

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“They [township officials] are not negotiating. They sound like they have pre-emptively decided upon the limit on the number of people at the assembly. We asked who set the limit. We asked which department, organisation and meeting set the limit. They answered that the limit was set at a meeting of the Ottarathiri Township Management Committee,” Kyaw Myo Thet said.

“This is the first time restricting the number of people in a protest since the civilian government came into power. It is a huge loss in terms of civil rights,” he continued. “We submitted a request for permission; it was not rejected. Permission has already been granted. There is one restriction: to allow only 300 people in the assembly. We have not affirmed that we agreed to [this restriction].”

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