Monks Question Gov’t Use of Personal Photographs
A monk in Pegu said, “I feel it is unusual because I had to attach my picture this time. Last year, I only had to provide information—no photo.”
He said members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a government-backed volunteer group, collected the information forms from the monasteries. Pegu, one of the main locations of Buddhist unrest during the 2007 monk-led uprisings, has an estimated 10,000 monks.
“They told me they have to send my personal file to the Southern Command in Pegu,” said the monk. “But they didn’t explain the reason. I want to know, because I don’t want the military to have my photograph.”
An abbot in Pegu said, “They believe we’ll start another uprising. This is why they collected the pictures with the information forms—in order to make us afraid of them.”
“I am waiting for another uprising, because we didn’t win the last round,” he said. “They (the authorities) used baton and guns. For us, we only had our fists.”
In Pegu, the authorities have ordered Buddhist monasteries to keep a guest record, said the abbot. “Even our supporters who come to meditate on Buddhist holidays, I have to keep a record of them.”
The abbot said he recently had to pay a 2,000 kyat fine (US $1.50) for failure to keep good records. “I’m angry because they dare to take money from monks,” he said. “They are evil people—those who killed monks. There will be a time they will be held accountable for the bad things they have done to monks. I am waiting to see it. In accordance with the Buddhist religion, they can’t outrun karma.”
Meanwhile, the authorities continue to place more restrictions on the activities of monks including traveling abroad, giving Dhamma talks and political activities.
In June, the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rangoon prohibited monks from traveling abroad by refusing to issue letters of recommendation, even for health reasons, according to monks in Rangoon. The government tightened restrictions on monks traveling within Burma following the monk-led uprisings of August-September 2007.
A number of leading monks also have been warned during the past year about speaking out on politics or prominent government figures during Dhamma talks.
According to official statistics, there are more than 400,000 monks in Burma. Its community, the Sangha, is considered one of the most influential bodies in the country.