Myanmar Two Years of Hard Labour in Prison for Asking for Religious Peace*
By Patrick Winn
In a country notorious for unjust prison sentences, this one is a doozy: two years of hard labour for urging “love and peace” between Buddhists and Muslims.
In Myanmar, where Buddhism is the dominant faith, anti-Muslim hatred has emerged in recent years as one of society’s greatest ills. This toxic phenomenon was the subject of a speech late last year by a well-known writer named Htin Lin Oo.
His message: hardcore racial and religious bigotry simply does not jibe with the Buddhist faith. The speech, according to The Irrawaddy news outlet, argued that
“if you want to be an extreme nationalist, and if you love to maintain your race that much, don’t believe in Buddhism.”
That was enough to get Htin Lin Oo sentenced to two years of hard labour in prison.
His offense under Myanmar law? Committing an act “intended to outrage religious feelings.”
What’s more, though Htin Lin Oo is an acolyte of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and White House favorite Aung San Suu Kyi, among Myanmar’s most revered political figures, he was fired from his post as her party’s information officer in the wake of the speech
Criminalizing appeals for religious tolerance represents a dark low in Myanmar as anti-Muslim fervour sweeps the country. No Muslim is safe from bigotry. But one group — the Rohingya, who live along the coast near neighbouring Bangladesh — have taken the brunt of it. They have been violently purged and forced into ghettoized camps so bleak that hundreds of thousands have risked death to flee on rickety boats plying the Bay of Bengal.
Those purges were preceded by town hall-style meetings in which Buddhists openly workshopped methods for driving Rohingya from their homes.
But laws against outraging “religious feelings” never seem to apply when Buddhists are whipping up anti-Muslim fervour.
These laws also didn’t stop monks and their followers from staging a recent anti-Rohingya rally in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. And they’ve never stopped the face of the country’s anti-Muslim movement — an attention-seeking monk named Wirathu — from denigrating Muslims as over-breeding, violent fanatics bent on toppling the country.
As the monk once told GlobalPost: Muslims are “like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are violent and they eat their own kind.”