After decades of dictatorship, one of the consequences of the freedom of speech recovered (partially) is the expression also of extremist values.
This is the case of an association sponsored by Buddhist monks called The Association for the Protection of Race and Religion or Ma Ba Tah. They share their racist and Islamophobic ideas during sermons, on internet or in newspapers.
They initiated hate campaign on several occasions, as recently when the country in the spotlight, had to take care of Rohingya and Bengali migrants who went adrift in their territorial waters.
Are nationalists above the law?
Since 2012 and the inter-confessional riots, tensions remain high between Buddhists and Muslims, especially in the state of Arakan where live the Rohingya.
Cornered by land confiscations, farmers are often jailed following protests but those organized by the Buddhist nationalist groups are not prohibited and leaders are never summoned to court.
During a visit by members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation,they demonstrated with slogans such as “opposed to islam because they are like animals with uncontrollable birth rate”… without being worried, until now, by the authorities or justice.
One of the leading figures of this movement is the monk named Wirathu. He was imprisoned under the dictatorship in 2003 for ‘Propagate hatred’ through anti-Muslim actions with his group 969. It was released in 2012 during a presidential pardon that see also with hundreds of political prisoners freed.
When the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the United Nations on the issue of rights-of-man, Yanghee Ms. Lee, came in Burma in January 2015, Wirathu insulted her, calling her publicly ‘whore’ His quotes have largely been taken over networks and in newspapers, no action has been taken against him.
Two months later, the owner of a bar in Rangoon got a sentence of two years in prison for ‘insulting religion’ after putting on his Facebook page a Buddha image with headphones as a commercial for a party.
Recently Htin Lin Oo, a Burmese intellectual, was sentenced to two years in prison,for ‘insulting religion’ as well. He said at a literary encounter:
Buddha is not Burmese, not Shan and not Karen—so if you want to be an extreme nationalist and if you love to maintain your race that much, don’t believe in Buddhism.
A common agenda
Today during the campaign, it became clear that the Association of protection of race and religion has a common agenda with the party in power, the USDP.
This party, whose Chairman Thein Sein took over the Presidency by eliminating rival U Shwe Mann should not make good results in the November elections. Any means reducing the popularity of its main rival, the League for democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, is therefore worth taking.
So in voting four very controversial laws on the protection of race and religion, the president receives unofficial support during the campaign of the nationalist monks association, called Ma Ba Tha.
Started just before the campaign, Ma Ba Tah organized throughout the country, large gatherings to celebrate the passage of these laws! In their speeches, and sometimes on their leaflets, they recommend explicitly not to vote for the NLD, a party that was against these laws.
Several text of laws yet prohibit the clergy people to participate in an election campaign or simply to make politic. Here is another example of the bias of the judicial world!