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Censored Burmese monk addresses Tokyo crowd

A prominent Buddhist monk banned from holding public sermons in Burma has led religious talks in Japan.

In late march Burma’s highest religious order prohibited Shwenyawah Sayadaw from preaching, shortly after he criticised the government’s handling of education law protestors.

On Sunday Shwenyawah Sayadaw preached to around 200 people at the Tokyo event, reflecting on dhama, or the principles and teachings of Buddhism, and the lives of Burmese people. He is expected to remain in Japan until 11 April, accompanied by his assistant Ashin Thuria.

On 25 March, Burma’s National Sangha Mahanayaka Committee, the highest order of Buddhist monkhood in the country, issued a written statement banning the abbot from giving dhama talks on the grounds that his sermons were “irrelevant” to Buddhist teachings.

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Known as a non-conformist, Shwenyawah Sayadaw has recently been outspoken in criticising the government’s crackdown on activists protesting the National Education Law in Letpadan, saying that the regime is not respecting rights of freedom of assembly. He is also a known supporter and activist for of opposition party the National League for Democracy. In 2011, He faced a year-long ban on speaking shortly after meeting with then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2011.

In a press conference following the announcement of his most recent muzzling, Shwenyawah Sayadaw said: “If there is anyone who wants to hear my sermon, I will continue preaching. Now, I’m going to Japan. When I return from that trip, I will continue preaching,” according to a report in Eleven Myanmar.

“In my sermons, there were no abusive words. Why didn’t the State Sangha Mahanayaka Committee take action against those who use abusive words? I’m just preaching without fear to show the weaknesses of the government. Now the situation is to do whatever the ruling government favours.”

Independent watchdog organisation Freedom House responded to the injunction in a 2 April statement. Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs, said: “The ban on Shwenyawah Sayadaw highlights the way Myanmar’s [Burma’s] government targets religious leaders critical of government actions.

“The monastic council is trying to silence Shwenyawah Sayadaw, even as ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu slanders a UN official and incites interreligious discord,” he added.

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