Tuesday, July 25, 2017

After deadline, Mandalay and Kayin remain Ma Ba Tha strongholds

The deadline to stop activities under the name of Ma Ba Tha passed on July 15 but some nationalist monks still refuse to soften their stance.

The state’s Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na) issued an order on May 23 that said the Association to Protect Race and Religion – popularly known as Ma Ba Tha – is an unofficial organisation and it must remove its signboards by July 15 .

The order also restricted Ma Ba Tha members from using that name individually or in groups for any purpose.

The Ma Ha Na warned that the Ministry of Home Affairs would take action against monks who ignore the order, under Sangha Organisation and other laws.

At the time, the chair and deputy chair of the Ma Ba Tha agreed to abide by the decision of the Ma Ha Na and informed other Ma Ba Tha groups to abide by the order of the state’s Sangha Organisation.

Most have done so, but Ma Ba Tha groups in Mandalay Region and Kayin State insist they have the right to remain active under the name Ma Ba Tha. They issued a statement July 10 saying they will continue to stand with Ma Ba Tha and will not take down its signboards.

“We have no plans to take down our signboards. That’s why we issued the statement,” Sayadaw Badanta Kuthala, secretary of Ma Ba Tha (Upper Myanmar), told The Myanmar Times.

He added that although they could tolerate the accusations of Religious Affairs Minister Thura U Aung Ko, they cannot accept any attempt by the government to use force to take down its signboards.

Thura U Aung Ko said Ma Ba Tha groups have been set up illegally by religious monks and people to take advantage of problems and cause instability.

The Ma Ba Ta branch in Mandalay appealed the May 23 order in a letter to the Ma Ha Na, saying that Ma Ba Tha groups should be allowed to continue their activities under the same name.

However, the Ma Ha Na rejected the request and issued another warning on July 14 that action is “inevitable” against those who refuse to follow its decision.

As of Sunday evening, Ma Ba Tha signboards were still seen at monasteries in Mandalay and Kayin.

A Myanmar Times reporter who tried to take a photo of a signboard in the compound of Kinwun monastery in Mandalay, which houses the head office of Ma Ba Tha (Upper Myanmar), said he was stopped by monks protecting the signboards from being dismantled by local authorities.

“We maintain our stance because what we do is right,” said Ashin Yatha, a monk in charge of information for Ma Ba Tha (Upper Myanmar) said on July 16.

Meanwhile, Sayadaw Ashin Ganbi Tharya of Ma Ba Tha (Kayin State) said local officials had told the group to take down its signboards. Monks and local people are taking care of signboards around Kayin.

Well-known monks like Myaing Gyi Nyu Sayadaw, Zwekabin Sayadaw and Taung Kalay, as well as the “Democratic Karen Buddhist Army” armed ethnic force support the Ma Ba Tha, said Ashin Ganbi Tharya.

Despite the Ma Ha Na and religion minister saying repeatedly that the Ma Ba Tha is not in line with basic Sangha principles, rules and regulations, Ma Ba Tha insist that the group was founded in accordance with the Registration of Organisation Law enacted in 2014. They cite article 19 of the law, which says that organisations that engage only in religious and economic activities do not need to apply for registration.

The Ma Ba Tha groups said they will continue their efforts to protect race and religion under the new name “Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation,” which they set up on May 30 with an eight-point statement.

The Ma Ha Na originally declared the Ma Ba Tha an unofficial organisation in July 2016 but did not try to abolish the group.

Regarding the Ma Ba Tha signboards still standing after the deadline, Ma Ha Na officials said taking action is the Home Affairs Ministry’s responsibility.

“If they [the authorities] want to sue us, they can. Everyone knows they are unfair. It doesn’t matter if they send us to jail, but if they do, riots will break out. All the responsibility, and the consequences, must be accepted by the government,” said Ashin Ganbi Tharya.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Ko Ko