Buddhist monk jailed for a month for anti-Rohingya protest

Ultra-nationalist monk Pamaukkha (C) leaves following a court appearance in Yangon on November 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YE AUNG THU
Ultra-nationalist monk Pamaukkha (C) leaves following a court appearance in Yangon on November 14, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YE AUNG THU

Ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk Pamaukkha was sentenced to a month in jail by a Kamayut Township court yesterday for leading a protest outside the US embassy in Yangon last year against the US government’s use of the term “Rohingya.”

The judge passed down the sentence after the monk refused to comment further on the case during a hearing yesterday. He was found guilty of violating Section 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. He still faces additional charges under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for threatening public tranquility. Each law carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, plus a fine.

Both laws have been criticized by rights groups and violating the basic freedoms of assembly and expression, though this is a rare application of the laws to curb ultra-nationalist activity in Myanmar.

Pamaukkha is considered a significant driver of anti-Rohingya sentiment in Myanmar, alongside the better-known monk Wirathu, who spent seven years in prison for his anti-Muslim sermons.

Pamaukkha was arrested earlier this month while applying for permission to organize another, unrelated protest in North Dagon Township.

During his trial, the monk was greeted by dozens of supporters. Most of the Myanmar public, in addition to the government and the military, reject the use of the term “Rohingya,” opting for “Bengali” – a term that implies that the Muslim minority group is not native to Myanmar.

During a previous court appearance, Pamaukkha exclaimed: “I am just protecting the sovereignty of the state.”

Following his conviction, the monk’s lawyer said he would challenge the ruling on the basis of procedural errors during the trial.

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