Buddhist nationalist writer Maung Thway Chun was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor on Monday for delivering a speech at the birthday party of a prominent monk in which he said Myanmar was in danger of losing its religious and national identity.
The case was brought against Maung Thway Chun by the deputy administrator of Mingin Township, Sagaing Region. Following a three-month trial, the court found the defendant guilty of violating Section 505(c) of Myanmar’s penal code, which outlaws speech that incited “any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community”.
Following his sentencing, the writer told Eleven: “I have nothing special to say. It goes as it is. I want to say that freedom of expression is dying down in this age of democracy.”
His lawyer, Aye Paing, said the sentence was severe and argued that his client’s speech was not meant to be interpreted as a political speech.
Maung Thway Chun previously edited a publication run by Ma Ba Tha, an ultranationalist, Islamophobic organization that was ordered to disband by Myanmar’s highest Buddhist clerical body in May 2017. He later tried to form an ultranationalist political party, which was denied approval by the Union Election Commission.
Last month, another writer named Ngar Min Swe was sentenced to seven years in prison under a similar law for insulting State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in a Facebook post. The post criticized her for receiving a kiss on the cheek from then-US president Barack Obama in 2014. He was convicted under Section 124(a) of the penal code, which outlaws speech that incited hatred against the government.
Arrests for political speech have accelerated dramatically since Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party came to power in 2016.