Wirathu arrested after more than a year in hiding

After nearly a year and a half on the lam, ultranationalist Buddhist monk Wirathu surrendered to the police on Monday to face charges of sedition.

Security was high as dozens of monks and other supporters gathered outside Yangon’s Western District police station, where the controversial monk waved as he made his first public appearance since May of last year.

On May 29, 2019, the district’s General Administration Department (GAD) charged him with violating section 124(a) of the penal code, known as the sedition law. He could spend up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.  

He also faces separate charges of defamation and causing public fear and alarm, laid against him by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The sedition charges were initiated by the Western District GAD’s deputy administrator San Min, who was acting on directives from the President’s Office and Yangon’s regional government.

The charges are related to a speech Wirathu gave on May 5, 2019, in which he used demeaning and obscene language to describe State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

In transcripts submitted to the court, Wirathu referred to the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader as “one who shakes her butt when meeting with foreigners” and makes other insulting innuendoes against her.  

It was unclear why he suddenly came out of hiding, but observers noted that his appearance comes less than a week before an election that the NLD is strongly favoured to win.

(Sai Zaw/Myanmar Now)

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