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Myanmar Junta Releases Firebrand Buddhist Monk Charged For Inciting Hate Against Rohingyas

The nationalist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, was facing a jail term imposed during the ousted Aung San Suu Kyi-led government for inciting hate and violence


Image: AP

A firebrand Myanmar monk, who was facing serious charges, including hate speech and inciting violence against the country's Muslim community, was released from jail, a spokesman for the Myanmar military reportedly said on 6 September.

Ashin Wirathu, the nationalist Buddhist monk was facing a jail term imposed during the rule of the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi. According to the media reports, the monk has always been a blind supporter of the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) and this prompted the junta regime to free the 'controversial monk'. Reports said that the junta did not furnish any concrete reason behind dropping the case against him.

While speaking to the Associated Press (AP), Par Mount Kha, another activist monk and friend of Wirathu, confirmed late Monday that the case against him had been dropped. "I am 100% sure that Wirathu has been released. We welcome his release," he said.

Wirathu's arrest becoming fugitive

It is worth mentioning that Wirathu became prominent in 2012 after deadly riots broke out between Buddhists and the country's minority Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine. Subsequently, the firebrand monk founded a nationalist organization that was accused of inciting violence against the Rohingya community. He garnered more support after some Rohingya militants on police posts triggered a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the Army in 2017. The counterinsurgency caused more than seven lakh of Rohingya villagers to flee across the border to Bangladesh for safety, according to various media reports. It was also alleged that the monk and his supporters were successful in influencing laws making interfaith marriages difficult. 

The news organisation, People Media, said it had received confirmation of Wirathu’s release from Major General Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for the Myanmar military. "The case was closed and he was released this evening. Even though U Wirathu was released, he is still receiving medical treatment at the Tatmadaw Hospital," it quoted Zaw Min Tun as saying.

Wirathu was arrested in November last year after being a fugitive since May 2019. The court had issued a warrant for his arrest under a section of the penal code that criminalises comments that “bring into hatred or contempt”. 

Social media platforms provided space for Buddhist monk 

In 2018, several social media platforms, including Facebook, had banned Wirathu's accounts after some of his speech violated their respective guidelines. However, the monk managed to stay on other social networks and gave speeches around the country. It is worth mentioning that he built his image as a "nationalist" monk after several of his speeches depicting his "blind support" for the Tatmadaw went viral on the internet. But, in a video released on social media while he was in prison, he complained bitterly about his treatment by the military-installed government. 

(With inputs from AP, Image: AP)

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