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Buddhist group banned again in Myanmar

MANDALAY (UCAN): On July 20, Myanmar’s Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), the government-appointed body that regulates Buddhist clergy, ordered the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation, formerly known as Ma Ba Tha, to end its activities and remove its signboards within 45 days.
Known for its ultra-nationalism and its anti-Muslim rhetoric, Ma Ba Tha was previously banned in May 2017 but it rebranded and continued operating.Known for its ultra-nationalism and its anti-Muslim rhetoric, Ma Ba Tha was previously banned in May 2017 but it rebranded and continued operating.
Ashin Ariya Wuntha Bhiwunsa, a Mandalay-based monk involved in interfaith programmes, said the group’s behaviour clashed with Buddhist practices.
“The group has no clear goals and it spreads hate speech that fuels anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. In a transition to democracy, its ways and activities are a barrier for the government to move forward, so the government needs to take action,” Ariya Wuntha said.
The monk said the nationalist group’s activities were affecting monks all across Myanmar.
The Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation said in a statement on July 21 that the organisation was seeking suggestions from branches across the country about whether to end its activities and remove signboards.
“If there is disunity among the monks and violence may erupt in the country, it is the responsibility of the State Sangha and the religious ministry,” it warned.
Kyaw Nyein, a lawyer and secretary of the Ulama Islamic Organisation in Yangon, said the ban is a welcome move but the order needs to be effective.
“In terms of legal perspectives, challenges lie ahead as legal experts and local administrators under the Ministry of Home Affairs don’t dare to take action on the unruly monks. So I think civil society needs to play a role in pushing for effective action,” Kyaw Nyein said.
After it was banned in May 2017, the group’s central executive committee came up with the name change but its logo, mission and activities remained untouched. However, it continued to use its old name of Ma Ba Tha in Karen State and Mandalay Division.
Ma Ba Tha spearheaded much of the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has fuelled sectarian conflict in the country, particularly in western Rakhine State. Violence there in 2012 left more than 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands—mostly Rohingya Muslims—to flee their homes.
Ma Ba Tha was established in 2013 and was influential in lobbying for a raft of so-called race and religion laws that were passed by a military-backed government before the 2015 election.
Critics say the laws are a blatant attempt to target Myanmar’s Muslim minority, especially the oft-persecuted Rohingya.
Ma Ba Tha was a strong supporter of the previous military-backed regime under president, Thein Sein, whose political party was trounced in the 2015 elections by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

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