Government officials are preparing to file lawsuits against the ultranationalist monk Wirathu that could see him jailed for up to five years for allegedly defamatory and inflammatory comments.
Top officials at the Ministry of Religious Affairs say they are likely to sue the firebrand anti-Muslim preacher under sections 66d and 505b, which cover defamation and causing public fear and alarm.
“There is evidence of him breaking 66d because he said defamatory things and also 505b,” said Zarny Win, the ministry’s deputy permanent secretary.
“We are still figuring out what other laws might apply,” he added.
He said he could not comment on when the charges would be formally filed, but that the first would be lodged at a court in Yangon.
It is unclear which of Wirathu’s varied public statements will be used to justify the proposed charges, which carry maximum sentences of three and two years respectively.
Wirathu took to VK, a Russian social media platform, on Thursday night to post a video in defiance of the legal threat.
“I fear unwholesome deeds very much, but I give speeches without the fear of handcuffs and prisons,” he said as he held a candle during an apparent power cut at his monastery in Mandalay.
Myint Oo, director general of the department of religious affairs, and Tun Nyunt, his deputy, will be the plaintiffs in the case against the monk, Zarny Win said.
Myanmar Now was unable to reach either of the officials for comment.
Earlier this week Thura U Aung Ko, the Minister of Religious Affairs, told the 7 Day newspaper his ministry was preparing a legal case against Wirathu.
“We are thoroughly preparing it so that it is as solid as possible. I can only say that at this stage,” he said on Monday.
Wirathu has led a number of pro-military rallies across the country recently to protest the government’s efforts to amend the 2008 constitution, which affords the generals vast powers.
During one rally in Myeik, Tanintharyi region, earlier this month, he appeared to imply that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had slept with her foreign advisors.
“When commissions are formed, they are formed with foreigners. Those who advise her are all foreigners. Those who accompany her are also foreigners,” he said.
Then he added: “Those who sleep with… ” before stopping abruptly, prompting laughter from among the audience of around 300 people.
He also drew criticism for another speech in Yangon in which he urged the public to worship military members of parliament like the Buddha.
“You have to pay the same respect to these soldiers as you have for the Buddha because they are having to protect the country on the military payroll while facing public hatred for this.”
In 2017 the government-appointed State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee banned Wirathu from preaching for one year.
The ban was imposed because he “repeatedly delivered hate speech against religions to cause communal strife and hinder efforts to uphold the rule of law,” the committee said in a statement at the time.
Facebook has also banned him from its platform but some suspect that he is still posting with an account under the name Vicittar Bhivamsa, whose page repeats content from his personal website.