Prominent monk the Venerable U Wirathu has defended the Organisation for the Protection of Race and Religion against criticism that was too close to the government and did not do enough on behalf of the five monks detained during a raid on a Yangon monastery last month.

U Wirathu is a leading member of the OPRR, which has been leading the campaign for a ban on interfaith marriage.

He told Mizzima on June 30 that he rejected the criticism, adding that he did not want divisions to emerge in the OPPR’s relationship with the supreme body representing the monkhood in Myanmar, the State Maha Sangha Nayaka Committee.

“I want to tell any monks who are showing less belief in our organisation that we cannot involve ourselves in problems that occur between monks, we have no right to do so,” U Wirathu said.

“Our organisation was formed primarily to do religious and national works; the OPRR cannot do anything that will damage our relationship with the State Maha Sangha Nayaka Committee,” he said.

On June 28, the Venerable U Thaw Bita of Mandalay’s Bawa Aling Yong Monastery said it had more than 1,000 monks in residence but only a few continued to have faith in the OPRR.

U Thaw Bita was speaking in Yangon after a seminar titled ‘Compassion and the Nation’ that he helped to organise with the support of other monks and some writers, including Mizzima Daily Sithu Aung Myint, at the Sule Shangri-la Hotel.

“The organisation’s only focus is on supporting the voice of dictatorship…they have taken to supporting the government and criticising the opposition, but they said and did nothing during the Mahasantisukha Monastery incident,” U Thaw Bita told Mizzima after the seminar.

In comments to Mizzima after the seminar, another prominent monk also criticised the OPRR over a midnight raid on the monastery last month which involved Ministry of Religious Affairs officials and monks from the State Maha Sangha Nayaka Committee.

The Venerable Ashin Pinnyasiha said the organisation should have spoken in support of the five monks detained during the raid on the monastery on June 10 and later forced to disrobe and held in Yangon’s Insein prison until they were released on June 20.

“Don’t bully monks or our religion, this is what they should be saying, at the very least they should be speaking out over incidents like this,” said Ashin Pinnyasiha, who is popularly known as the Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw.

Ashin Pinnyasiha also said the OPRR had failed to take a stand or speak out during the protest movement in 2007 known as the Saffron Revolution or in the aftermath of the attack on protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine in November 2012, in which monks were among those seriously burned by phosphorous grenades thrown to disperse demonstrators.