UNITED NATIONS - The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Wednesday voiced concern over the sentencing of a columnist who opposes the use of Buddhism to promote extremism to a two-day prison term, and urged the Myanmar authorities to release him and guarantee freedom of expression and opinion in the country.

“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,” OHCHR spokesperson said in Geneva. U Htin Lin Oo, a former official at the National League for Democracy party and a columnist, was sentenced to two years and hard labour for a speech meant to discourage Buddhist extremism. “U Htin Lin Oo courageously spoke out against the use of Buddhism as a tool for extremism. His treatment are in stark contrast to the treatment of those who are clearly inciting violence against minorities, particularly the Rohingya (Muslims).”

Ms. Shamdasani added. “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 spokesperson stated.

High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has previously raised U Htin Lin Oo’s case, warning Myanmar against creating “a new generation of political prisoners” by jailing people who seek to enjoy the democratic freedoms they were promised in the reforms the country has undergone over the past two years. Calling on the Government of Myanmar to send a “clear message” against hate speech and incitement to violence, OHCHR said that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence in this country should be prohibited by law.