Swiss Filmmaker and 13 Cast Members Detained in Burma for Alleged Insult to Buddhism

The military junta in Burma (Myanmar) has arrested a Swiss filmmaker and 13 amateur actors over allegations of insulting Buddhist cultural traditions and committing blasphemy against Buddhism.

Ancient Buddhist temples in Bagan, Myanmar (Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg, Creative Commons 4.0)

Didier Nusbaumer was arrested August 8 along with 13 Burmese nationals, including a 12-year-old girl, the Associated Press reported August 19, citing Myanma Alinn, a state-operated newspaper regarded as the official communication channel of the Burmese government. 

According to the news report, Nusbaumer, 52, was responsible for the writing, filming, and editing of a 75-minute Burmese-language film, Don’t Expect Anything, in which the 12-year-old girl plays the leading role.

The film was uploaded on the YouTube channel Isi Dhamma on July 24. Excerpts from the movie, which has English subtitles, were shared on various social media platforms, including TikTok and Facebook, leading to criticisms from Burmese Buddhist nationalists.

In Burma, where religious nationalism has seen a surge in recent years, disrespecting Buddhism is a prosecutable act. Buddhism is the primary religion in the Southeast Asian country, and about 90 percent of its people adhere to the faith.

Burma has been under military rule since February 2021, when the generals currently in charge of the country launched a coup and took over authority from the democratically elected administration led by then-prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi.

The film, which is critical of monks deviating from Buddhist precepts, has garnered more than 110,000 views and 1,.00 likes.

The Myanma Alinn report claimed that although the main characters in the film were Buddhist, the actors’ actions, including inappropriate physical gestures and words, “degraded the dignity and morals of monks.”

Nusbaumer is associated with the Phaung Daw Oo Integrated Monastic Education School in Mandalay. His film’s entire cast hails from the school.

On August 21, the Swiss Embassy in Burma’s capital of Yangon communicated to Radio Free Asia that it had requested Burmese authorities to provide clear information regarding Nusbaumer’s present situation. No further details have since been made available.


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Myanmar Didier Nusbaumer Don’t Expect Anything Military Junta