Rangoon ceremony for freed monks blocked

A ceremony in Rangoon to reordinate nearly 40 monks released from prison in the January amnesty has been blocked by a government-backed monastic committee on the grounds that it had a “political agenda”.

The event was due to take place on 4 February at a monastery in Mayangon township, but a phone call from the head of Rangoon division’s Sangha Maha Nayaka quickly put a stop to that.

“At first, the township’s administrators turned up and tried to stop the event, and the [monastery’s] abbot told them they were in no position to block a merit-making event for monks,” said Ko Ko Lay, who organised the ceremony.

“It appears they took it to the Sangha Maha Nayaka, and the committee has banned the event, claiming that it had a political agenda.”

Prominent figures lined up for the event included released student leader Min Ko Naing and Shan leader Khun Htun Oo. They were among nearly 300 political prisoners released in the 13 January amnesty.

But despite an apparently opening political environment in Burma, many remain concerned at the government’s treatment of monks. The country’s monastic community is seen as power political force, and the government’s unease at their continued influence is exemplified by the 48 monks who still remain behind bars.

According to data compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPP), the majority of these were charged under Act 5j, which penalises those deemed “to affect the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order”.

Earlier this month a prominent Burmese monk, Ashin Pyinya Thiha, who has links to the political opposition, was evicted from his Rangoon monastery. His growing profile had irked the government in Burma, which considered the Sardu monastery as something of an organising hub for the opposition.

The order for the eviction came from the same Rangoon wing of the Sangha Maha Nayaka committee that blocked this weekend’s event.

Monks continue to hold substantial political clout in Burma, despite regular intimidation by authorities. A group of monks who in November last year protested in Mandalay are now reportedly under “village arrest” in Thaphyay Aye in Sagaing division, signifying ongoing unease within the government about the degree of influence they have over Burmese.

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