Myanmar to Try Former Religion Minister on National Security Charges

Myanmar former religious affairs minister Hsan Sint was charged in court Tuesday with undermining national security, his lawyer said, as prosecutors withdrew the corruption charges on which he was detained last month.

Hsan Sint was sacked from the cabinet and arrested over a case of graft in June after he reportedly objected to a controversial government raid on a monastery in Yangon that led to protests by monks.

His lawyer Tin Htun told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the Datkhina Thiri District Court in the capital Naypyidaw had replaced the charge he earlier faced under the Misappropriations of State Funds Act with one under the State Protection Law.

“He said he is ready to face the charges against him and appeal a conviction if necessary, as he has evidence that could show he is innocent,” Tin Htun said.

“We will do what we have to [to prove his innocence] according to law,” he said.

Tin Htun said that because of the withdrawal of the corruption charges, eight people who were detained along with Hsan Sint were released after the hearing, adding that security at the court was tight and that the media had been prevented from meeting with the former minister.

The lawyer said that the health of Hsan Sint, who is being held at Yamethin prison in the Mandalay region, “is not good,” and that he could require treatment depending on the results of a medical examination at Naypyidaw Hospital earlier this week.

Myanmar’s Eleven news media reported that the former minister had been granted a meeting with his family members at Tuesday’s hearing.

Hsan Sint’s next hearing is scheduled for July 30.

Raid and arrest

Hsan Sint was sacked and detained on corruption charges following a June 10 raid on the disputed Mahasantisukha monastery in Yangon’s Tamwe township.

Twenty monks were held when officials from Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, accompanied by around 300 riot police, took control of the monastery while its popular abbot, Pyinya Wuntha, was visiting Japan.

Fifteen of the monks were released a day after the raid, but five others were stripped of their clerical status by senior monks and sent to Yangon’s notorious Insein prison on June 13, according to reports.

The incident drew the ire of predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar’s monastic community, which is revered by the public, with some monks threatening to hold large protests if the remaining five monks were not released. The five were granted bail on June 20.

Last month, spokesperson for the President’s Office Ye Htut said that action had been taken against Hsan Sint because he had “failed in his duties” as a minister, citing the raid on the monastery as an example.

Additionally, reports had alleged that Hsan Sint used government funds to construct a pagoda in his family’s name in Naypyidaw’s Lewe township in October last year and had only repaid part of the money.

Facing criticism

Myanmar’s government is facing criticism from human rights groups over draft laws aimed at protecting the country's majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and marriages between people of different faiths.

The international community has also slammed the government’s treatment of minority Muslim Rohingyas in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where at least 250 people have died and thousands were displaced in several bouts of religious violence since 2012.