Local punk band Rebel Riot held a public conference on Wednesday to apologize to religious-nationalist group Ma Ba Tha for an interfaith photoshoot that many Facebook users have denounced as an insult to Buddhism.
In the picture, which was taken during a recent Thailand tour and widely shared online, three members of Rebel Riot are respectively dressed as caricatures from Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu mythology. Several netizens interpreted the middle character as libelous toward Buddhism, and an official complaint was lodged with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture by Myanmar National Network leader Win Ko Ko Latt.
In response, Kyaw Kyaw, the Rebel Riot member who wore the Buddhist robe in the photo, contacted Win Ko Ko Latt to explain that he hadn’t intended to insult Buddhism. The same sentiment was echoed at Wednesday’s public apology, which was held at the Insein Ywar Ma Monastery, also known as the central monastery for Ma Ba Tha. The monastery’s abbot is also the Yangon Region Ma Ba Tha chair.
However, Kyaw Kyaw also defended his actions by pointing out that the outfit he wore was fabric that he had purchased from a clothing store and was not an official monastic robe. The group also reaffirmed that their intention was not to insult religion, and that they were apologizing for having upset those who misinterpreted the photo.
Speaking to 7Day, Kyaw Kyaw said of the photo: “The main message we wanted to convey was that different religions can coexist.”
“The message that spread on Facebook was that we were insulting religion. We then felt that it was our responsibility to explain the situation and that this wasn’t our intent. If we leave it alone, then it’ll be as though we’re guilty of their accusations,” he said.
The ceremony was attended by several monks, in front of whom Kyaw Kyaw signed a document acknowledging that he had insulted religious sentiments and verbally promised not to do so again.
It is unclear if legal action will be taken against Kyaw Kyaw under Section 295 of the Myanmar Penal Code, which outlaws “Injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class”. Officials said the public apology would help his case in the event that legal proceedings do take place.