Nationalists reluctant to pressure govt over defamation case

Buddhist monks and nationalists hold placards in front of the US embassy during an unauthorised demonstration against the use of the term 'Rohingyas' in Yangon, Myanmar, 28 April 2016. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

A prominent nationalist Buddhist monk has said the Ma Ba Tha movement has no plans to pressure the government over the recent arrest of a nationalist provocateur on defamation charges, but he warned that authorities should tread carefully when dealing with the movement.

Thopaka, a monk who is the spokesperson of Ma Ba Tha's headquarters in Yangon’s Insein Township, said the movement would closely follow the case against Nay Myo Wai, the chairman of Peace and Diversity Party.

“We support Nay Myo Wai’s nationalist activities, but will wait and see how his case will be handled,” he said when asked whether the movement would help the staunch supporter of their nationalist cause.

Thopaka warned the NLD government to deal carefully with the nationalist forces or else there could be “dangers, condemnations and protests. This would not be good for the new government, nor for the country.”

Nay Myo Wai was apprehended on May 3 after a complaint was filed by a member of Myanmar’s Teachers’ Federation. He complained that a Facebook post by Nay Myo Wai had defamed President HtinKyaw, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Ashin Thaddama, another prominent Ma Ba Tha monk, better known as Myanan Sayardaw, said the reasons for the arrest were “not well-founded” and he suggested that someone had created a fake Facebook account in Nay Myo Wai’s name to cause him trouble.

“We will have a meeting about this soon,” he said. “We want to see this case set right.”

Nay Myo Wai, whose party is closely aligned with the Ma Ba Tha, is known for his active social media presence, which usually involves attacks and racist slurs aimed at Myanmar’s Muslim minority. 

His arrest is a rare case of government action against the nationalist movement, which enjoyed tacit support from President Thein Sein’s previous Union Solidarity and Development Party administration.

The National League for Democracy has questioned Ma Ba Tha’s motives in the run-up to last year’s election, when the monks publicly backed Thein Sein for another term. But the NLD has been reluctant to directly challenge Ma Ba Tha as the monks have considerable public support among the Buddhist majority, nor has the party come to defence of the country’s Muslims.

A few days after the Ma Ba Tha organised a large protest on April 28 against the US Embassy’s use of the term Rohingya, it was reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had advised the embassy to stop using the word.

The NLD government, much like its predecessor, has made it clear it will not acknowledge the stateless Muslim minority’s use of the term. 

Aye Aye Soe, a spokesperson at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, told Myanmar Now on Monday that Foreign Minister Suu Kyi had personally relayed the message to the new US Ambassador Scot Marciel when he came to present his credentials on April 27.

“The minister just said that (use of) the term would exacerbate the issue and should be avoided,” she said, adding that the ministry did not send an official request to the US Embassy on the matter.

Thopaka said Ma Ba Tha was content with the NLD’s diplomatic initiative, as the movement opposes the international community’s stance that the Muslim minority in Rakhine State should be allowed to self-identify as Rohingya.

“We welcome this step, though this is not an official announcement,” he said.

Win Ko Ko Latt, leader of Myanmar National Network, which organised the protest in front of the US embassy, said, however, that his group was preparing to stage demonstrations to demand that the NLD officially reject the term Rohingya.

He said an application has been submitted to authorities for a protest in Mandalay on Friday, adding more events could follow in Ayeyarwady, Sagaing and Magwe regions and Mon State. 

“Our members in a number of towns are prepared to stage more and more protests if the government does not reveal its position on this issue through  state-owned media,” Win Ko Ko Latt said.

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