Firebrand Buddhist Monk Ashin Wirathu was released from prison by the Burmese Military on Monday, two years after sedition charges were slapped at him for alleged derogatory remarks he made against former leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
After becoming a fugitive for months, he finally surrendered in November last year. Ashin Wirathu was accused of inciting “hatred or contempt” and “exciting disaffection” against the civilian government. Spokesperson for the Myanmar Military, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, said, “The case was closed and he was released this evening,” before proceeding to add, “he is still receiving medical treatment at the Tatmadaw Hospital.”
It is not clear why the monk was receiving treatment at the military hospital or what he was receiving treatment for. The monk’s release comes months after the civilian government was deposed in Myanmar.
Who is Ashin Wirathu?
Ashin Wirathu was dubbed the “The Face of Buddhist Terror” by the Time Magazine in 2013. He has also been branded the ‘Buddhist bin Laden’ by some. The monk was quoted as saying in Time Magazine, “[Muslims] are breeding so fast, and they are stealing our women, raping them. They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist.”
For his part, Wirathu accused Time Magazine of committing “serious Human Rights Violations” by not quoting him verbatim in their piece. “Before I had heard [rumours] of the Arab world dominating the global media. But this time, I’ve seen it for myself.”
In another interview in 2013, he declared, “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind. Even though they are minorities here, we are suffering under the burden they bring us.” On another occasion, he opined, “You can be full of kindness and love but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.”
The monk led the ‘969 movement’, a Buddhist revivalist movement that advocated the social and economic boycott of Muslims and sought to ban marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men. The inspiration for the name comes from Buddhist scriptures, with the first 9 denoting the nine special attributes of the Buddha, 6 represents the six special characteristics of his Dharma and 9 represented the nine attributes of the Buddhist monastic order, or the Buddhist Sangha.
Ashin Wirathu has his fare share of critics within Myanmar, with certain monks believing that he spread hate between communities. Nonetheless, when Time Magazine branded him a the face of Buddhist terror, then president of the country, Thein Sein, lashed out at the magazine and accused it of slandering the Buddhist religion. He described Wirathu as a “Son of Buddha” and defended him as a “noble person” committed to peace.
For his part, Wirathu claimed, “I am defending my loved one, like you would defend your loved one. I am only warning people about Muslims. Consider it like if you had a dog, that would bark at strangers coming to your house – it is to warn you. I am like that dog. I bark.”
Ashin Wirathu was arrested for his sermons in 2003 as well and had to spend 9 years in prison. Despite that, he continued to occupy a stature of respect in the country. He belongs to the Theravada school of Buddhism. Some believe that he is in league with the Burmese Military.
Munshi Faiz Ahmed, a Bangladeshi expert, told Arab News, “Myanmar’s military was in need of a mass medium to reach the country’s Buddhists. Monks have more influence on Buddhists in Myanmar than politicians, so the powerful military recruited Wirathu to serve its purpose as the extremist monk has some fanatic followers.”
He added, “On one side, the ambitious Wirathu wanted to increase the number of his followers, and on the other side the military wanted to consolidate its power. So the army generals started backing the extremist monk in his spreading of hate against the Rohingya Muslims.”