YANGON (Reuters) - Hundreds of supporters of Myanmar nationalist monk Wirathu protested at the country’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda on Thursday against a warrant issued for his arrest to face sedition charges.
Wirathu has long been known for harsh rhetoric against Myanmar’s Muslim minority, but the order to arrest him follows comments he made that are critical of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 300 of Wirathu’s supporters gathered outside the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
“He is criticizing the government openly and publicly as a citizen,” nationalist activist Win Ko Ko Lat told reporters. “Using the sedition act against him is entirely unfair,” he said.
The arrest warrant for Wirathu was issued by a Yangon court on Tuesday. Police have not set out the exact grounds for the warrant under a law that prohibits bringing “hatred or contempt” or exciting disaffection toward the government.
At recent rallies, Wirathu has accused the government of corruption and criticized it for trying to change the constitution in a way that would reduce the power of the military.
The military ruled Myanmar for decades until the start of a transition to civilian rule in 2011. Wirathu is the most prominent of the nationalist monks to emerge as a growing political force since then.
Wirathu is based in the central city of Mandalay, but neither police nor his supporters said where they currently believed him to be.
In fiery speeches, Wirathu has often targeted Rohingya Muslims, more than 700,000 of whom fled an army crackdown in Rakhine State in 2017 that U.N. investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
He has denied accusations of inciting violence.
The charges under the British colonial-era sedition law carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
Writing by Matthew Tostevin; editing by Darren Schuettler