Scuffles broke out outside a monastery where hardline Buddhists yesterday gathered to seek mob justice against a man whose sharp-tongued criticism was deemed an insult to the religion.
Hundreds gathered outside a monastery in Meiktila to take matters into their own hands two days after Kyaw Win Thant faulted conservative Buddhist monks for opposing a new Grade 11 sex education program.
“We will act according to the law. Please stay peaceful,” a voice can be heard addressing the crowd through a loudspeaker in one video clip filmed outside the Koenawin Monastery.
“He insulted Tatmadaw and Sangha. He has to apologize,” a man shouts back, referring to the Burmese military and the nation’s body of monks.
Several men from the crowd asked the authorities to take off the man’s mask so they could photograph him. The densely packed crowd showed no concern for social distancing despite the current coronavirus pandemic.
“If you don’t apologize, we will do what we have to do. Do you want to arrest or shoot us?” a man from the crowd taunted rifle-wielding police officers while threatening to harm the man at the same time.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Kyaw Win Thant had been forced to apologize at the monastery for his critical commentary on Buddhist monks, who have said the new sex-ed program does not conform to the culture of Myanmar.
Roughly 50,000 teenage girls give birth annually in Myanmar, according to the 2014 census.
“The baldies do not know about sex education because they were never taught before,” he had written online Sunday. The post in question and his Facebook account are no longer accessible. “But they watch so much porn. The baldies are the most horny.”
Baldy is a common insult for Buddhist monks, who shave their heads.
He said monks from a local monastery in Meiktila watch porn, go to brothels and place bets on soccer matches in the same post. He also complained in one comment that monks and soldiers do not contribute to the society, “These strong men do not do any fucking work or do not pay fucking taxes. Soldiers and monks are exploiting our hard-earned money.”
Screenshots of his post along with his personal photos were posted several times by Buddhists calling for retaliation. Local residents said the 31-year-old doctor and Yangon resident, who was visiting his parents in Meikhtila, is in police custody and has been charged with blasphemy. Coconuts Yangon could not reach the local police station for comment.
At the monastery, the angry Buddhists outnumbered the police and demanded legal action.
“This is an insult to Buddhism,” a man screams in another clip of the confrontation.
Kyaw Win Thant was then taken to a police van parked inside the monastery compound as scuffles between officers and the angry mob broke out. At least two men were seen approaching the van to reach him. People were seen throwing stones and following the police van. The police did not appear to make any arrests.
Meiktila has some of the most conservative Buddhists in an already conservative Buddhist country. Home to several military bases and a military university, the military-backed USDP party won parliamentary seats in the town in central Myanmar in the 2016 general election. In 2013, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Meiktila with a mosque and Muslim-owned shops and houses burned down to ground.
Perceived criticism or defamation of Buddhism or Buddhist monks is often met with public fury and legal punishment in the Buddhist-majority country. Last month a group of artists were charged with blasphemy for their graffiti artwork.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Kyaw Win Thant was being held in protective custody; in fact, he’s been charged with blasphemy.