DVB Multimedia Group

Religious affairs minister urges measures to rein in hate

Religious Affairs Minister Thura Aung Ko speaks to reporters following a meeting of senior monks on 14 July 2016. (Photo: DVB)

Burma’s Religious Affairs Minister Thura Aung Ko has urged the country’s official monastic regulatory body, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, to take effective action against Buddhist monks engaged in inappropriate conduct.

The minister made the remarks on Thursday during the plenary session of a two-day meeting of the 47-member committee of senior monks, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ha Na, at Rangoon’s Kaba Aye Pagoda.

According to state media reports, Aung Ko urged the committee to take action against members of the monastic order in accordance with Directive 72, which was originally issued in September 2007 to discipline monks participating in the Saffron Revolution.

He also criticised monks for “wasting time” on social media, describing it as “a platform for the ignition of religious and racial tensions,” state media reported.

His remarks appeared to be directed at the controversial Buddhist nationalist organisation Ma Ba Tha, which has led a campaign to “defend” Buddhism, Burma’s dominant religion, from what it sees as a threat to its very existence from the country’s Muslim minority.

Backing the government’s efforts to curb the group’s political influence, the Ma Ha Na chairman, Sayadaw Bhaddanta Kumarabhivamsa, said that decisions on religious issues should be based on existing laws, as well as on the Dhamma Vinaya, or monastic code of conduct.

Speaking recently at at a meeting of the Myanmar Interfaith Dialogue Group, Aung Ko pledged to strengthen the group and protect freedom of religion in Burma.

“We will breathe life into the Interfaith Dialogue Group to protect religious freedom and people of all faiths who live in the Union of Myanmar,” he told reporters at the end of the event.

The group’s vice-chairman and Myanmar Islamic Religious Affairs president Nyunt Maung Shein said a law preventing hate speech has been drafted and presented to leaders of four major religions for review.

“The draft law is now available — there also existing laws that provide responsibilities and a code of conduct between different religions, but the new law will provide more meaningful definitions and is drafted to reflect the current situations,” said Nyunt Maung Shein.

The Interfaith Dialogue Group was formed in 2009.