Political motive seen in fugitive firebrand monk Wirathu’s surrender to police

In this file photo taken Oct. 14, 2018, Buddhist monk Wirathu speaks during a rally to show the support to the Myanmar military in Yangon. Wirathu has long been the face of the country’s Buddhist nationalist movement, notorious for espousing hate against the Rohingya. Photo: Ye Aung THU / AFP
In this file photo taken Oct. 14, 2018, Buddhist monk Wirathu speaks during a rally to show the support to the Myanmar military in Yangon. Wirathu has long been the face of the country’s Buddhist nationalist movement, notorious for espousing hate against the Rohingya. Photo: Ye Aung THU / AFP

Extremist Buddhist monk Wirathu, famous for stoking division and Islamophobia through incendiary hate speech, turned himself into the police yesterday after 17 months on the run.

Wirathu, 52, turned himself in just days before Sunday’s national election on charges of insulting State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Observers speculated that his surprise surrender was meant to hurt her party, which is expected to win handily, and boost the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party.

“Nice move! The timing is perfect, but it’s too late,” Facebooker Gi Gi wrote in response.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, or NLD, is expected to win Sunday by a margin similar to its 2015 landslide.

“Do whatever you want, you fools. We are not dumb anymore,” Poe Eain Hmue wrote. “In the end, NLD and our mother Suu Kyi will win!”

In May 2019,  the Yangon regional court approved a warrant for Wirathu’s arrest over a speech against Suu Kyi’s rule in which he compared military figures in parliament to Buddha. He has been in hiding since then.

“I came here to save my reputation,” Wirathu told reporters upon his Sunday reappearance.

Wirathu is most known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, particularly against the Rohingya community, and ultranationalist support for military rule. He’s whipped up crowds with strident speeches against efforts to amend the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

In 2018, Wirathu said that the NLD’s government was funded by foreigners and he essentially called Suu Kyi a prostitute in one speech last year, saying a government official was “sleeping with foreigners.”

The state counsellor was previously married to a British academic who died of cancer far from her in 1999 while she was under house arrest by the military.

“He has now been sent to Insein Prison. We do not know whether he will be defrock or not, as the court date has not been announced. We are continuing to work in accordance with the procedures,” an official from the Western District Police Station told Coconuts Yangon without divulging his name.

If found guilty, he faces 20 years in prison and a fine.

Wirathu appeared in court today for a remand hearing and will return Nov. 17. His supporters and fellow monks appeared outside the court, wearing “We Love Wirathu” shirts.

Born Win Khaing Oo, Wirathu’s hateful speeches dehumanizing the Rohingya as animal invaders are blamed for contributing to several anti-Rohingya pogroms culminating in state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing that began in 2016.

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: CRIME

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