Wirathu banned from sermons after celebrating U Ko Ni assassins


YANGON — A Myanmar monk infamous for his bilious anti-Muslim tirades has been banned from giving sermons for a year by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, an unprecedented slapdown to man whose hate speech has galvanized religious tensions.

U Wirathu, the vice-chair of the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha and one-time leader of the 969 campaign calling for boycotts of Muslim businesses, has led calls for restrictions on the country’s Muslim population, penning hyperbolic speeches warning of an Islamic takeover of Myanmar.

Communal riots earlier this decade, which broke out in a number of towns and cities across Myanmar, have been partially attributed to anti-Muslim rhetoric spread by Wirathu’s radical wing Buddhist monks.

The February assassination of U Ko Ni, a respected and high-profile Muslim lawyer and long-time ally of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, also heightened tensions.

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Wirathu had already been barred from speaking at an event shortly after Ko Ni’s murder. In the weeks after the murder, he had taken to Facebook to praise the lawyer’s killers.

At a special meeting of the Sangha committee on Friday, Myanmar’s most senior monks announced their decision to ban Wirathu from public sermons for one year..

“As he has repeatedly delivered hate speech against religions to cause communal strife and hinder efforts to uphold the rule of law” the monk “was banned from delivering sermons across Myanmar for one year from March 10, 2017 to March 9, 2018,” the council said in a statement that emerged on Saturday.

He will face “action under the rule of law” for any breach of the order, the Sangha added, without specifying the punishment.

The move came just days after an acolyte of Wirathu’s filed charges against Ko Swe Win, chief correspondent of investigative news service Myanmar Now, for a Facebook post that suggested Wirathu had committed an act warranting expulsion from the monkhood by celebrating Ko Ni’s death.

Swe Win was defiant when responding to an apology demand in a Wednesday press conference.

“I don’t need to apologise to an immoral person. I don’t need to apologize to anyone who supports murderers,” he told reporters.

U Aung San Win, a senior official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, confirmed the order to AFP, but did not elaborate on the actions that may be taken against him or say whether the order covered his vigorous social media profile.

A 2015 report by US-based rights group Justice Trust alleged that a number of anti-Muslim communal riots in the preceding years, including at Wirathu’s home base of Mandalay, were immediately preceded by speaking tours conducted by the monk.

The Sangha committee distanced itself from Wirathu and Ma Ba Tha last year, after the monk threatened legal action against Yangon Region Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein, who said the nationalist group was “unnecessary.”

Wirathu was defiant Saturday, attending a sermon in Mandalay while standing with his mouth taped shut, in a gathering broadcast live on his Facebook page. 

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