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Union backs SE1 hospital chaplain facing jail in Rangoon

The Unite trade union has called for 'baseless' charges against a London-based Buddhist monk to be dropped by the Burmese authorities.

The Venerable U Uttara, Buddhist chaplain at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals, and fellow monk U Panasara were bailed in Rangoon on Friday on charges alleging religious defamation of the law and 'malicious insulting religious belief'. They face two years in jail if convicted. The next court hearing is on 27 June.

Earlier this week justice minister and Bermondsey & Old Southwark MP Simon Hughes called on his Foreign Office colleagues to take urgent action.

U Uttara, who started working at Guy's and St Thomas' as a trainee chaplain in 2004, is currently on a career break in Burma (Mynamar) at the request of the country's minister for health and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sang Suu Kyi to set up multi-faith chaplaincy services in Rangoon and Mandalay.

The monks have been released on bail and have been allowed to go to a monastery to re-robe as monks.

The minister of religious affairs was sacked last night. Altogether five monks were arrested, two of whom live in the UK Uttara, a UK citizen, and Panasara, who has leave to remain in this country.

U Uttara is a member of the College of Healthcare Chaplains, a professional section of the Unite union, and the union believes that the two monks are victims of religious in-fighting between rival monks in the volatile country, only recently emerging from decades of military dictatorship.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: "Unite welcomes the release on bail of U Uttara and his colleague U Panasara as they appear to have been victims of in-fighting by rival monk factions in Burma.

"The charges are baseless and illegal under Burmese law they should be dropped immediately by the authorities.

"U Uttara is highly respected for his chaplaincy at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals and was asked to help set up multi-faith chaplaincy service by the Burmese government and pro-democracy champion Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

"He had found the work extremely challenging due to political and religious unrest. The chaplaincy services were to cover Buddhist, Muslim and Christian faiths.

"The Burmese government needs to prove that it is making good progress to creating a country where the human rights of all sections of society are respected."

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