Five monks detained during a Tuesday night raid on the Mahasantisukha Monastery were de-robed and brought to court on Friday, according to an officer at the Tamwe police station. The officer did not offer any further detail about the monks’ arraignment or pending trial.
A monk from Magwe, U Parmaukkha, told DVB after observing part of the hearing, “When we heard that U Uttara and the other monks were put on trial, I went directly to the court. I asked the judge and he said it was true. They were brought to court today. Five monks were de-robed, and the next hearing will be on the 20th of June.”
In the early hours of 11 June, the Sangha Maha Nayaka joined with police to raid the Mahasantisukha Monastery in Rangoon’s Tamwe Township, where they sealed the perimeter and detained 37 people; five monks and 32 laypeople. All but the five monks were released the following day. The monks are believed to be detained in Insein prison, according to U Parmaukkha, though this has not been independently verified by DVB.
The Mahasantisukha Buddhist monastery is the domain of a well-known abbot, Penang Sayadaw, who is currently on a mission to Japan. It has for years been the subject of an ownership dispute between the abbot and the State Sangha Committee, which assumed control of the property some ten years ago while Penang Sayadaw was on a journey abroad.
The land of Mahasantisukha Monastery was originally donated in 1995 by former dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe to Penang Sayadaw. The monastery was confiscated by the military government in 2004 and put under the control of the State Sangha Committee, which reiterated in March 2013 that it legally owned the property and would not give it back to Penang Sayadaw. In October of last year, the president issued a notification returning the monastery to the revered abbot.
This provoked the State Sangha Committee to increase pressure on Penang Sayadaw, claiming that his continued defiance was an affront to Buddhist doctrine. Following the raid, officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs announced on Wednesday that the monks had no right to reside in the monastery and would face charges on account of violating the Buddhist code of discipline.
On Friday, several monks came forward claiming that they had been deceived by the Maha Nayaka when monks from 12 townships were summoned to assist with the late-night operation. On condition of anonymity, the monks told DVB that they were told that the monastery might be occupied by armed “elements from across the border”.
“We really were not really sure what was going on,” one witness said.