Scores of protesters on Sunday took to the streets in Sittwe demanding the release of Buddhist monk Nanda Thara and a layman, Khaing Ni Min, who were arrested last month and face unlawful association charges after organising a football match in the name of the Arakan Army.
The protesters yesterday afternoon marched through the Arakan State capital holding placards and chanting demands that the two men be released. They also demanded that the monk, who is abbot of the Mya Tansaung Monastery, be treated with the respect his position is due, and called for abolition of the controversial Unlawful Association Act, which is frequently used to incarcerate citizens with alleged connections to ethnic armed groups.
The Arakan Army has been battling Burmese government forces in western Burma since 2015.
Kyawt Sein, chairperson of the civil society group Rakhine Alin (Arakan Light), which organised the protest, said the monk Nanda Thara did not have any connection to the Arakan Army.
“The sayadaw [abbot] recently organised a protest calling for an end to armed conflict in Arakan State. He mainly focused on civil society work for the good of the people and had not committed any offence against the government. He also has no connection to the AA,” she said.
“The arrest was unjust and we call for his release.”
Former political prisoner and activist Naing Naing, who joined yesterday’s protest, denounced the authorities’ treatment of the monk, calling it the behaviour of dictators.
“I absolutely object to the authorities disrobing and handcuffing a Buddhist monk while the government is going about a transition toward democracy,” said Naing Naing.
“I would like the government to also consider monastic regulations while dealing with legal procedures.”
The Mya Tansaung Monastery abbot and Khaing Ni Min were detained in Mrauk-U Township on 10 April for organising a local football match, which they had dubbed “The Arakan Army Cup.” The duo were subsequently charged under article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act for alleged ties to an illegal entity.
A protest similarly calling for the detained men’s release was held on 21 April in Mrauk-U.