U Htin Lin Oo, an activist and writer in Myanmar, has been sentenced to two years in prison on the charges of insulting religion. In a literary talk, he spoke out against Buddhist extremism, saying it was used as a tool to promote discrimination and prejudice.
After sentencing, U Htin Lin Oo said he would continue fighting for the freedom of expression. “I won this case”, he told reporters. “Though I am being sent to prison, I don’t feel sorry. I will keep speaking out when I come out of jail”.
His speech, in which he allegedly criticized Buddhism, received much attention on social media. The activist is a former official with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
The United Nations said it was “appalled” by the sentence of U Htin Lin Oo, calling him “courageous” and urging the authorities to release him and to ensure that those “exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion do not face reprisals”, OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.
U Htin Lin Oo’s case sparked global outcry, with Amnesty International and various other activist groups calling for his immediate release.
Once known as Burma, Myanmar’s transition to democracy four years ago has been underlined by simmering tensions between the Buddhist majority and its minority Muslims. After five decades of strict military rule, a form of Buddhist nationalism has formed, and violence is mounting.
Thousands of Muslim Rohingyas have fled the country.
The U.N. representative for human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, was recently denied access to certain parts of the country, where she was planning to report on the inter-ethnic situation.
According to Amnesty International, journalists critical of the government in Myanmar “pay dearly for their stories”. In 2014, five journalists from the weekly newspaper Unity were put behind bars for exposing an alleged secret chemical weapons factory. Unity has since closed, sending a tremor of fear through Myanmar’s small but brave press community.