RANGOON — Threatening to stage a protest if their demand is not met by Friday, Buddhist monks are urging the release of five of their fellow clergymen who have been detained since June 10 and are charged with committing offenses to religion.
Seven monks and 32 laymen were evicted from the Maha Thanti Thukha monastery in Rangoon by the government-backed Buddhist clergy, the Sangha Maha Nayaka, and were subsequently apprehended. The laymen and two monks were later released, but the five who remain behind bars were reportedly disrobed and sent to Rangoon’s Insein Prison to await their trial, scheduled for June 20.
The five detainees, including the English national Sayadaw U Ottara, are followers of Penang Sayadaw U Pyinnya Wuntha, an 86-year-old abbot who has been involved in a dispute with the state Sangha over the ownership of the monastery since the early 2000s. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has backed the state Sangha in the case and supported the June 10 raid on the monastery.
“We are requesting the release of the monks by tomorrow. If they don’t, we will protest,” U Pamaukkha, one of monks spearheading the campaign for their release, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
He said that he would lead the protest, along with the well-known Buddhist monks Shwe Nya War Sayadaw, who hails from a monastery in Pegu Division’s Okkan Township, and U Wirathu of the Ma Soe Yein Monastery in Mandalay.
“We were discussing with the abbot of Natsintayar monastery for the release of the monks. As representative of us, he is negotiating with the state Sangha for their release,” U Pamaukkha said.
Burma’s Penal Code carries provisions that set out punishments for acts that insult religious feelings and beliefs, or disturb places of religious worship and assembly. The charges carry fines and prison terms of between one and two years.
U Wirathu, a monk best known for his controversial affiliation with the anti-Muslim 969 movement, said the dispute was between Penang Sayadaw U Pyinnya Wuntha and the state Sangha, calling authorities’ decision to charge the five monks “an injustice.”
“The state Sangha is still discussing whether they will release the monks or not. We will act depending on their decision. If they continue to detain the monks, it is sure that we will stage a protest or do something to demand release,” he said.