The U.N. human rights office has denounced the jailing for two years of Myanmar columnist and author U Htin Lin Oo for insulting religion after he spoke out against Buddhist extremism.
"We are appalled at the two-year prison sentence handed down to U Htin Lin Oo on charges of insulting religion. U Htin Lin Oo courageously spoke out against the use of Buddhism as a tool for extremism," said the office in a June 3 statement.
In November Htin Lin Oo made a speech in which he criticized the use of Buddhism as a fig leaf for prejudice and discrimination.
"Buddha is not Burmese, not Shan, not Karen - so if you want to be an extreme nationalist and if you love to maintain your race that much, don't believe in Buddhism," he said at the time.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said, "His treatment and conviction are in stark contrast to the treatment of those in Myanmar who are clearly inciting violence against minority communities, particularly the Rohingya. "
Instead of prosecuting those "who brazenly call for the Rohingya to be killed, for hate speech and incitement to violence," the Myanmar authorities jailed "a peaceful advocate," the U.N. office said.
It noted U Htin Lin Oo had dared to question the misuse and manipulation of religion for extremist ends.
The U.N. High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein had previously raised U Htin Lin Oo's case, warning Myanmar against creating a new generation of political prisoners.
It would be doing this by jailing people who seek to enjoy the democratic freedoms they were promised in the reforms the country has undergone in the past two years.
"We urge the authorities to release U Htin Lin Oo unconditionally and to take all necessary measures to ensure that those who conduct peaceful advocacy, legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion, do not face reprisals," the rights office said.
It also called on the Myanmar government to send a clear message against hate speech and incitement to violence.
The U.N. office said that an increased space for freedom of expression in Myanmar had been welcome.
At the same time international standards require that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law.