Firebrand Burmese monk on run for insulting Suu Kyi

A member of Myanmar’s government has told a court that the extremist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, “incited hatred” against State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

San Min, an administrator with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in Yangon, told the court he had been ordered by President Win Myint’s office to bring the case against the ultranationalist monk.

Wirathu, dubbed the “Buddhist Bin Laden”, is facing charges for insulting Suu Kyi, a politician, and not for his efforts to incite racial hatred towards Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

Suu Kyi has been condemned by extremist monks for “stepping foot” in a pagoda reserved for men.

“Wirathu’s speeches cause disrespect and incite hatred in the people against Aung San Suu Kyi … [and] the government,” San Min said in his court filing.

Wirathu has used social media to voice nationalistic support for the military and to condemn Suu Kyi. The firebrand monk opposes the NLD’s efforts to amend the military-drafted 2008 constitution that ensures the generals dominate Burmese politics.

The sedition charge is related to his criticism of the government – which should face criticism in a democracy – not for his comments on Muslims, which have resulted in numerous deaths.

Extremist monks have reportedly accepted a cash donation from the military while condemning the government for allowing Rohingyas to enter the country “illegally”.

The militant Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation was known as Ma Ba Tha until it was banned by the government and religious authorities in 2017.

The influential group has continued to operate under its new name.

While criticising Suu Kyi, the monks have lauded the military and its brutal crackdown on the Rohingya in impoverished Rakhine State.

Monks appear at pro-military nationalist rallies and Yangon Region Commander Major-General Thet Pon recently donated Ks30 million (US$20,000) in cash to the group.

The supposedly religious order said it “harshly condemn” legal reforms which had “allowed and continue to allow Bengalis to enter the country illegally”.

“Bengali” is a common, offensive term used for the Rohingya, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, while the Muslim community itself claims to descend from Arab traders who arrived on the Rakhine coast a millennium ago.

The monks called on voters to reject the NLD at next year’s general election and back the generals’ Union Solidarity and Development Party instead.

Co-leader Wirathu himself was absent from the meeting.

Rakhine State. Aung San Suu Kyi is treated like a religious figure, rather than a politician. Picture credit: Asean Economist