Junta drops charges against hate-preaching monk Wirathu 

The coup regime has pardoned the infamous hate-preaching monk Wirathu, who was arrested last year under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, after leaving him in jail for more than seven months since its February 1 coup. 

Wirathu went into hiding after being charged with sedition under section 124A of the penal code in 2019 for speeches he made attacking Aung San Suu Kyi. He turned himself in just days before the November 2020 election.  

He has since appeared at several virtual court hearings, but his trial was suspended amid further Covid-19 restrictions. 

A man who campaigned for Wirathu’s release said the monk had been barred from talking to the media and that there had been “negotiations” with the military about his security. 

“The 124A charge has been dropped. And other legal cases regarding his finances have been settled too,” said the Wirathu supporter, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

The military regime’s spokesperson Zaw Min Tun told the pro-military People Media that Wirathu has been ill, but did not elaborate. 

“The plaintiff against U Wirathu is the Yangon regional government,” he said. “It has dropped the charges now and he was released this afternoon. But he has been receiving treatment at a defence services hospital.”

A monk involved in seeking Wirathu’s release said: “He suffered from Covid-19 severely. Now he has recovered. But he now has cartilage damage in both his left and right arms. He’s not in good health.”

During a 2019 speech near Yangon City Hall, Wirathu told his followers to “worship the military as if they were the Buddha.” 

Pro-Wirathu nationalist groups sent several appeal letters to the military calling for the monk’s release. 

Within a month of the coup the junta freed Htay Aung, a hotel owner who accused the NLD of taking money from abroad for its election campaign, as well as Buddhist extremist Michael Kyaw Myint and former lieutenant colonel Hla Swe, a former MP for the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party.

In recent months the junta also released thousands of other detainees, including some protesters, in a move it said was aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. 

Wirathu’s followers had criticised the generals for their treatment of the monk and for not giving him the Covid-19 vaccine. The monk contracted the disease while detained in Insein prison but recovered last month.

Earlier this month, Wirathu posted a video from hospital on Russian social media platform VK criticising coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Wirathu gained international attention after being featured on the front cover of Time magazine with the headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror” in 2013. Ten years earlier, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for inciting a deadly anti-Muslim riot in Kyaukse, Mandalay Region.

After being released during the presidency of Thein Sein in 2012, he became a founding member of Ma Ba Tha and spearheaded the 969 movement, which among other things encouraged Buddhists to boycott Muslim-owned businesses. 

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