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Closing arguments were heard on Tuesday in the trial of writer Htin Linn Oo, who stands accused of blasphemy charges for criticising the nationalist policies of the Buddhist monk-led group Ma-Ba-Tha, officially known as the Association for Protection of Race and Religion.
His lawyer Thein Than Oo said there was no strong evidence that his comments had upset monks.
“His use of words may have been strong, but there is no evidence that he said anything with an ill-intention to insult or upset the monastic members of the organisation, as the prosecutors in the case are claiming.
“Not one single witness from the monastic order – not a monk nor a nun nor a hermit nor even a postulant – gave evidence at the trial. Therefore their claim is dubious,” he said.
The former National League for Democracy (NLD) member has been on trial at Sagaing Division’s Chaung-U township court for eight months after he was sued by a local government official under penal code Article 295(a) for ‘defaming religion’, and Article 298 for ‘hurting religious feelings’.
The charges stem from a public speech the NLD regional spokesman made in Chaung-U on 23 October last year when he criticised the Ma-Ba-Tha.
“They [Ma-Ba-Tha] claim to teach the dharma but they do vile things – they yell and shout, and preach lies and prejudice to the people – and I am absolutely disgusted by them!” said Htin Linn Oo in Chaung-U.
“One thing for sure is that the Lord Buddha was not Burmese, or Shan or Kachin or Karen or Chin or Arakanese – he wasn’t from one of the ethnicities of Burma. Brothers and sisters, are you aware of this? If you really love your race, then don’t follow his religion. He is not of our race.”
Amid the furore, he was removed from his post with the NLD.
On 15 January, Htin Linn Oo publicly apologised to some 30 local Buddhist monks, who reportedly accepted his apology.
A verdict in the trial is due on 2 June.