Writer affiliated with Myanmar opposition convicted for ‘insulting religion’

Htin Lin Oo, a writer and former information officer for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor on Tuesday for ‘insulting religion.’

The conviction comes months after Htin Lin Oo was arrested and charged late last year following a speech he gave at a literary event in October in which he called out nationalist monks.

“Buddha is not Burmese, not Shan and not Karen—so if you want to be an extreme nationalist and if you love to maintain your race that much, don’t believe in Buddhism,” according to a translation in the Irrawaddy at the time.

The speech took place in the central Myanmar town of Chaung-U, in Sagaing division.

A complaint was filed in November and he was subsquently charged under article 295(a) and 298, dealing with insulting religion and wounding religious feeling, respectively. However, he was only convicted under 295(a), which carries a maximum sentence of two years.

In what now appears to be a futile mea culpa, Htin Lin Oo apologized to clergy in January.

After the speech and complaint, the NLD stripped Htin Lin Oo of his job as information officer and took his party membership away.

Photos of Htin Lin Oo in handcuffs being led from the court with a police escort appeared on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

His conviction will likely be seen as the latest triumph for hardline Buddhist nationalists. In March, three people (including one foreigner from New Zealand) were convicted for insulting religion after a promotional photo of the Buddha wearing headphones appeared on the Facebook page of their bar.

Members of the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement attended the sentencing on Tuesday.

Defense lawyer Thein Tann Oo told Coconuts Yangon that Ma Ba Tha members “have been pushing since the trial started.”

“He was convicted under the strongest punishment. It is because of outside pressures,” he said.

Maintaining his client’s innocence, he added that he would appeal at Sagaing’s Monywa court within 30 days.

Amnesty International slammed the verdict in a statement, saying it should be overturned “immediately.”

“Htin Lin Oo did nothing but give a speech promoting religious tolerance – we consider him to be a prisoner of conscience who should be released without conditions,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Htin Lin Oo retained his party membership with the NLD

Photo: Facebook/Htin Lin Oo

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