Fugitive ultranationalist monk U Wirathu will be tried in absentia for sedition, a Yangon court announced yesterday.
Yangon’s Western District Court announced Tuesday that it’s moving forward with the case with or without the defendant because the warrant for his arrest was also set to expire, according to media reports.
“We were looking for him to fulfill the warrant issued by the court. We still haven’t found him yet. The court wants to continue with the case,” Deputy Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Voice of America Myanmar yesterday.
Charges under Article 124(a) of the penal code were filed last month after Wirathu publicly criticized the civilian government’s bid to change the military-drafted constitution. On May 28, the court approved an arrest warrant for the firebrand abbott blamed for inciting hatred and violence. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Wirathu has refused to turn himself in. The announcement that he’ll be tried regardless means Wirathu loses his right to defend himself in court. The court also announced that it would take legal action against anyone providing him refuge.
The trial opens next week with prosecutors and plaintiffs in the case providing testimony.
Wirathu has courted controversy since his release from prison in 2013 after being pardoned in a general amnesty. Since then, he’s toured Myanmar delivering ultranationalist tirades against Myanmar’s minority Muslim population, comparing them with animals and joking about their eating habits using scatological humor.
After being banned from Facebook, Russian social media platform VK, and even the national Buddhist authority, Wirathu maintained that he is simply a devout Buddhist monk in a video posted to VK on Thursday by a supporter.
The monk’s followers have rallied at religious sites in Yangon and around the country to pray for the safety of the controversial monk and call for what they say is an effort to oppress monks and Buddhism.
Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist, with over 90 percent of the population adhering to the religion.