Ven. Thawbita, a prominent Mandalay-based monk who was sentenced to two years in prison just a day after his arrest on February 1, has been given two more years behind bars on new charges, his lawyer said on Monday.
San Nyunt Wai, the monk’s lawyer, told Myanmar Now that the new sentence was handed down last Wednesday after the regime added charges of incitement under Section 505a of the Penal Code to the list of his client’s alleged offenses.
It was unclear if an appeal would be filed, but it appeared to be unlikely, as the court has denied the monk any formal representation, according to San Nyunt Wai.
“The prison authorities said his case would have to be submitted to the higher authorities as he was a well-known monk,” the lawyer said.
An outspoken critic of Myanmar’s military leaders, Ven. Thawbita first came to national prominence in 2007, when he emerged as one of the leaders of the monk-led Saffron Revolution.
The current case against him stems from remarks he made on social media in 2018 that were deemed defamatory to the country’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing.
He was initially charged with incitement under Section 505b of the Penal Code, but a court in Mandalay Region’s Amarapura Township dismissed that case last year.
Then, on February 2—a day after he was taken away from his monastery in handcuffs as the military seized power from Myanmar’s elected civilian government—he was found guilty of violating Section 66d of the Telecommunications Law and immediately sentenced to two years in prison.
Ywet Nu Aung, another lawyer who was involved in defending the monk before the coup, said that the sentence was handed down before the trial was even completed.
“We were still examining witnesses for the defence in connection with the Section 66d charges when he was arrested on February 1 and given a two-year sentence on February 2,” he said.
According to San Nyunt Wai, the additional charge under Section 505a was added at some point after Ven. Thawbita’s arrest.
He added that lawyers have been denied permission to visit the monk at Mandalay’s Obo Prison, ostensibly due to Covid-19 restrictions.