Published on Aug 5, 2021
Sayadaw U Ariyawuntha Biwunsa, the abbot of Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi monastery and an outspoken critic of the military, was released from Obo Prison on Monday after being arrested and held in junta custody since just after the February 1 coup.
Known as the Myawaddy Sayadaw, in September 2020 U Ariyawuntha had already been charged by the army with violating Section 500 of the penal code for defamation, which carries a two-year prison sentence. He had been out on bail and attending court hearings when he was again arrested by the junta.
Myanmar Now spoke with U Ariyawuntha on Tuesday—one day after his release—about his treatment in prison and the consequences of military rule for the country and for Buddhism.
MN: How is your health now, considering you spent six months in jail?
U Ariyawuntha: My health has been great, thanks to the consciousness I have around this. I have managed to stay healthy throughout all of the hardships I have faced. I know many people are in worse shape than I am. This is understandable, considering that living in detention is especially hard.
MN: Why did the prison authorities say you were released?
U Ariyawuntha: I was released because I’ve served my time.
MN: Were you ever beaten or tortured during your detention?
U Ariyawuntha: Not at all. I had to stay at the police station for a night after my arrest. I think they made my arrest official the following day, and then issued a warrant and sent me to court before I was finally sent to prison.
MN: Was there any interrogation at all?
U Ariyawuntha: Not much, to be honest. Many of us who were arrested were facing charges under Section 505. Although I was also facing charges under Section 500, so I also had bail set at 10 million kyat (more than US$6,000). Because I appeared for my court hearings regularly, it was almost like they were keeping me captive without any legal standing after the military coup.
They arrested me without announcing that they had rejected my bail, so it seemed like an illegal arrest.
MN: Why do you think they came to arrest you right after the coup?
U Ariyawuntha: I think they just didn’t want people like me speaking the absolute truth, which will always be different from their ‘truth.’ If there’s one thing they’re afraid of, it’s the truth.
MN: We’ve heard that the Covid-19 pandemic has spread to the prisons. How was it in Obo prison?
U Ariyawuntha: They’re trying their best to contain the infection with great care. They’ve put the prison under lockdown. It’s hard to call what they provide ‘healthcare’ since there are all sorts of people in prison with all sorts of needs. I think the same could be said about the authorities. If they don’t like a person, it can feel as if they are creating trouble for them. There are restrictions that make it hard to live inside the prison. There are many ways to do so though.
MN: The commander-in-chief said in a speech that Buddhists had suffered greatly during the five years under the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) government. What do you say about that?
U Ariyawuntha: If that were true, the people would have been revolting against the NLD. There was no such case, so do your math.
Politically speaking, they’re just trying to cheat in this game. Look at the NLD, they have tried so hard to thrive in such hardships. They’re only doing this because they want what’s good for the country. There was no complete authority for the NLD. The NLD didn’t have full say in the government mechanism. Everybody knows that.
In my opinion, this is not the time to worry about religion. If you’re going to exploit the people in the name of religion, you’ve got to be one hell of a lousy politician. There have already been some bad things done in the name of religion by previous politicians. We have to focus on the future of the country first. Religion only comes next.
There are multiple occasions where the Buddha said, “only give donations and meditate if the country is peaceful.’ It is really ridiculous to focus on religion while the country is on fire. What they said about religion is not true, in my opinion.
MN: Many believe that the religion will be tarnished if the dictatorship is long-lasting. What do you think about this?
U Ariyawuntha: This corrupt political system—‘dictatorship’ as you call it—will ruin everything. There’s a Burmese saying: ‘When the sky falls, nobody survives.’ You can’t have strong economics, education, livelihoods or religion as long as the political system is corrupt. Everything will be in ruins. I don’t think those things, let alone religion or the country itself, would survive under such a corrupt system. It really pains me to see that some are destroying the political culture in the name of something sacred.
Source – Myanmar NOW