One of Myanmar’s most prominent ultra-nationalist monks was denied bail on Tuesday after he was arrested charges of inciting unrest in an anti-Rohingya protest held outside the US Embassy last year.
The Buddhist abbot, Parmaukkha, was detained over the weekend in a rare move against hardline clergymen who have fanned hatred against the persecuted Muslim Rohingya — a group recently targeted by a deadly military crackdown in Rakhine state.
The monk, who appeared in court on Tuesday in layman’s clothes, has been charged over his role in an April 2016 protest outside the US Embassy that denounced the American government’s use of the term ‘Rohingya’.
The proper name for the Muslim minority is rejected by many Buddhists and government officials in Myanmar, who deny the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity and insist the group are illegal “Bengali” immigrants — a description the Rohingya view as pejorative.
The monk was greeted by dozens of tearful supporters outside the Yangon court, where judges set the next hearing for November 21.
“(I) am just protecting the sovereignty of the state,” he told AFP before entering the courtroom.
Alongside the better known ultra-nationalist monk Wirathu, Parmaukkha has been at the forefront of anti-Rohingya sentiment that has bubbled in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years, often spilling into bouts of violence.
Hate speech against the Rohingya has crescendoed in recent months amid intense global condemnation of an army campaign that has pushed more than 600,000 of the Muslim minority out of the country in two and half months.
Global and domestic views over the crisis are sharply divided.
The UN and international rights groups have accused the military of ethnic cleansing, with Rohingya refugees describing murder, rape, arson and other atrocities at the hands of soldiers.
But the government, and many in the Buddhist majority, have defended the military as a crackdown on Rohingya “terrorists” who raided police posts in late August.
The civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi has refused to allow in UN officials charged with investigating allegations of crimes against humanity.
And on Monday the military exonerated itself of any abuses in an internal probe that denied soldiers had attacked or raped civilians, among other allegations.
Those findings were released ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to the Southeast Asian country on Wednesday, when he is expected to take a firm stance with the military generals.