GENEVA (Reuters) - Myanmar should unconditionally release a writer jailed for insulting Buddhism or risk creating a new generation of political prisoners, the U.N. human rights office said in a statement on Wednesday.
Htin Lin Oo, a former official with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, was sentenced to two years of jail and hard labor on Tuesday for comments made in a speech he said was meant to discourage Buddhist extremism.
The U.N. statement said Htin Lin Oo had courageously spoken out against the use of Buddhism as a tool for extremism, which it said was in stark contrast to the treatment of those inciting violence against Myanmar’s minority Rohingya population.
“Rather than prosecuting individuals, who brazenly call for the Rohingya to be killed, for hate speech and incitement to violence, the authorities have jailed a peaceful advocate who dared to question the misuse and manipulation of religion for extremist ends,” the U.N. statement said.
“U Htin Lin Oo courageously spoke out against the use of Buddhism as a tool for extremism.”
Myanmar’s government should send a clear message against hate speech and incitement to violence, it added.
The transition to democracy four years ago by Myanmar, once known as Burma, has seen the emergence of a kind of Buddhist nationalism rarely encountered under the military’s five decades of strict rule.
Long simmering tension between the Buddhist majority and its minority Muslims has surfaced with the lifting of bans on protests and easing of censorship and has at times spiraled into rioting and deadly religious violence.
Muslims have been worst hit and many Rohingyas - not recognized by Myanmar’s government as a minority group or as citizens - have fled the country in desperation.
Since 2014, more than 88,000 have made the dangerous sea voyage in search of a better life, often entrusting themselves to smugglers. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said last month that almost 1,000 were thought to have died at sea and a similar number at the hands of unscrupulous and abusive traffickers.
Malaysia says it has taken 120,000 illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Thailand has said it is sheltering 100,000 more.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan