Following last week’s outbreak of deadly inter-communal violence in Thandwe Township, southern Arakan State, police arrested 48 people for their role in the unrest. An Arakan politician said on Wednesday that 35 of the detained are Arakanese Buddhists.
“Until yesterday, there are 35 ethnic Arakanese among the arrested. The government announced they arrested a total of 48 people,” said Khine Pyi Soe, spokesperson of the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP), a nationalist Arakan party. “We would like to ask the authorities about their arrests,” he added.
The unrest in Thandwe Township began on Sept. 29 and raged for four days, with mobs of Arakanese villagers attacking seven Kaman villages, destroying 110 homes and leaving 500 people homeless. Five Kaman were killed during the attacks, while an attack by Muslims on a group of Arakanese men, left four injured.
The violence coincided with the first official visit to the strife-torn region by President Thein Sein, who said he believed that “external forces” were behind the violence.
Local Muslim inhabitants and a National League for Democracy representative have said that Arakanese politicians and Buddhist leaders organized a large ‘Buddhist Day’ gathering on Aug. 26 that attracted the nationalist Buddhist 969 movement, which spread its virulent anti-Muslim message in Thandwe Township in the weeks leading up to the violence.
In the unrest’s aftermath, police arrested two RNDP leaders from Thandwe leadership and two members of civil society group Protection of Nationality, Religion and Dhamma. Since then, the total number of arrests has reportedly risen to 35 Arakanese Buddhists and 13 Muslims.
Police could not be reached to confirm the background of the detained.
Ethnic Kaman villagers, who are recognized citizens of Burma, suffered the brunt of last week’s attack by Arakanese, but Khine Pyi Soe said the latter group was being unfairly targeted for criminal investigation and he claimed that police had arbitrarily arrested Arakanese citizens.
“These people are losing their human rights as they are being arrested without concrete reasons,” he said. “They [police] must check carefully whether these people are actually involved in the incidents.”
Khine Pyi Soe suggested the detainees should be released and questioned later, saying that many of those being detained in relation to the bloody anti-Muslim violence were “respectable citizens.”
“Those people will not run away,” he said. “The police should get answers from the people without arresting them.”
In Sittwe on Tuesday, two Arakanese community leaders were each sentenced to prison terms of three months for organizing an anti-Muslim protest without prior government permission in March.
Khin Pyi Soe said Nyo Aye, leader of the Arakanese Women Network, and Kyaw Zaw Oo, the executive member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, were charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession, a repressive military junta-era law.
The two were jailed for organizing protests against a Turkish-backed plan to build several thousand permanent homes for Rohingya Muslims who were displaced during last inter-communal violence. The Burmese government later abandoned support for the plan.
Some 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, continue to languish in squalid, crowded camps with little in the way of aid. Burma’s government has been reluctant to improve their plight and has imposed numerous restrictions on the group, which it does not consider Burmese citizens.
Khine Pyi Soe, the RNDP spokesperson, said the court was wrong to sentence to two for organizing a protest, adding that the sentences were meant as a warning to the Arakanese public to end their protests against international aid support for Muslims in their state.
“We—the Rakhine residents, the political party, the religious leaders and the civil society groups in Sittwe—had decided on these protests in March,” he said, “and Nyo Aye and Kyaw Zaw Oo were implementing that. Now both of them were jailed for that.”
He said a total of 21 Arakanese have been imprisoned for organizing unauthorized protests in March.
Than Hlaing, a local National League for Democracy member and a fellow Arakan activist of Nyo Aye, said she not break the law. “The protesters did request permission from the township authorities in advance, but the authorities did not reply until hours before the protest. As they had planned it already they carried on with the protest,” he said.