A Myanmar court has granted bail to a senior Buddhist monk facing defamation charges for allegedly calling the country’s military thieves and robbers in an interview with a local news and entertainment website.
Bail was approved by the Pyigyiatagon Township Court for Sayadaw U Arriyawuntha, the abbot of Myawaddy Mingyi monastery in Myanmar’s second biggest city Mandalay on Nov. 7.
The monk, who is known for working with interfaith groups, is accused of defaming the military in comments he made to the Yangon-based Khit Thit website in an interview in June
In the interview, he questioned a more than 30 million-kyat (about US$20,000) donation by an army commander to the Dhamma Parahita Foundation.
The foundation was formally known as Ma Ba Tha, an ultranationalist Buddhist group.
The abbot, a strong critic of the military and nationalist monks, told the website that the foundation broke religious rules by taking money from the military, which he said was looking to block democratic reforms.
“That nationalist group is partnering with an organization that is going against the rules of Buddhist monks,” the Irrawaddy news website quoted the monk telling Khit Thit in June.
Calling them thieves and robbers, he also accused the military of making a mockery of democracy by defying laws, intimidating the populace and occupying seats in parliament without having contested an election.
The military’s response came in September by filing a lawsuit accusing Sayadaw U Arriyawuntha of breaching Article 500 of the penal code for defamation, which could be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment.
Article 500 is one of six criminal defamation laws in Myanmar, all of which are often used to threaten and punish those who make allegations of corruption or criticize the military, critics say.
“The lawsuit clearly shows the military is trying to block criticism. But I will not stop, and I will continue with what I have to do,” the abbot said outside the court following the bail hearing.