Yangon, Myanmar, Jun 3 (efe-epa).- Myanmar has sentenced a doctor to 21 months in prison for a Facebook post that criticized the Buddhist monks who are opposed to a government proposal of introducing sex education in high-schools, officials said on Wednesday.
Kyaw Win Thant, 31, was on Tuesday held guilty of “insulting religion” by a court in the central city of Mandalay. The doctor was charged for a rant against the powerful monastics that he posted on Facebook on May 17.
He was subsequently shifted to the Obo prison, court spokesperson Kyaw Myo Win told reporters.
In his Facebook post, he had ridiculed the monks for “acting as chiefs” in Myanmar despite never having learned about sex education, and claimed that the holy men were the same as non-religious people as they “watch porn films and bet on football matches.”
According to the court spokesperson, the complaint against the doctor may have been lodged by Tin Maung Aye, the religious affairs minister of the Mandalay region.
The controversy began with the government’s plans to launch sex education classes in Myanmar’s secondary schools from the next term.
The proposal was criticized by the large monastic community in a country where more than 88 percent of the population follows Theravada Buddism and monks wield enormous social influence.
The doctor was arrested on May 19 after carrying out a ritual to seek pardon for his words at a monastery in the central city of Meiktila.
According to local media reports, a large number of angry residents gathered at the monastery and tried to attack Kyaw Win Thant, after which the authorities took him to a police station and later transferred to the prison in Mandalay “for his safety”.
The influence of the Buddhist clergy in Myanmar, which has around half a million monks, has increased since the country underwent a democratic transition in 2011 after nearly five decades of military dictatorship. Priests in the country enjoy an almost divine status.
Recent years have also witnessed the rise of ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups such as the 969 Movement, or the now-dissolved Patriotic Association of Myanmar – known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha.
The association carries out social work but has also been accused of spreading propaganda against the disadvantaged Muslim minority communities.
In 2015, Ma Ba Tha managed to push through a series of laws in the parliament to “protect the race and religion”, which are arguably discriminatory against Muslims and hinder the conversion of Buddhists to other religions and prohibit inter-faith marriages. EFE-EPA