Burma Imprisons Two Muslim Women for Sparking Okkan Unrest

A young Muslim boy runs through the ashes of his village in Kyawe Poan Lay, Okkan township, which was razed by a Buddhist mob in May. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A young Muslim boy runs through the ashes of his village in Kyawe Poan Lay, Okkan township, which was razed by a Buddhist mob in May. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON— A Burmese court has imprisoned two Muslim women for sparking communal violence earlier this year in the town of Okkan, near Rangoon, in the latest conviction of minority Muslims while Buddhist suspects have yet to face trial.

The two women were blamed for sparking the violence in April after they were involved in an altercation with a Buddhist monk that angered local Buddhists, leading to anti-Muslim rioting in the city about 100 kilometers from Rangoon. One Muslim man was killed and nine were injured in the unrest, while 81 homes and a mosque were burned to the ground.

“The court gave them a sentence of two years each in prison and hard labor on June 5,” an official from the court in Taik Kyi Township, where Okkan is located, told The Irrawaddy.

Burma has seen clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in several states this year, but so far only Muslims have been imprisoned. Muslims make up only about 5 percent of the country’s 60 million or so population.

In Okkan, the violence erupted on April 31 after a Muslim woman bumped into a novice monk, spilling his food and breaking his alms bowl. The woman and the monk were detained by the police following the incident, and both were released about two hours later after the woman apologized.

But when they left the police station, another Muslim woman grabbed the young monk and shook him, accusing him of lying to the police. This prompted both Muslim women to be detained. A mostly Buddhist crowd gathered outside the police station and began destroying Muslim properties in neighborhood.

The two women were charged with offending religion in Buddhist-majority Burma. An article of the country’s penal code prohibits people from engaging in “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

As of last month, a total of 39 suspects were reportedly in police custody for their alleged roles in the rioting.

“We are summoning witnesses and still investigating the case,” an officer at Okkan’s police station told The Irrawaddy, adding that he did not have the authority to disclose the exact number of suspects still in detention.

Before the rioting in Okkan, inter-communal strife between Buddhists and Muslims broke out last year in west Burma’s Arakan State. The violence spread this year to central Burma and east Burma—with clashes in the town of Meikhtila, then in Okkan, and mostly recently in Lashio. In total, more than 200 people have been killed and more than 150,000 people—mostly Muslims—have been displaced.

In the unrest this year, the government has convicted more than 10 Muslims but no Buddhists.

In east Burma’s Lashio Township, a Muslim man was sentenced to 26 years in prison last week after an incident in late May which sparked an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence that left one person dead and displaced about 1,400 Muslim residents. He was convicted of attempted murder, voluntarily causing grievous harm and two drug-related charges.

In the central Burma town of Meikhtila, the Muslim owners of a gold shop and an employee were sentenced in April to more than a decade in prison after a dispute with a Buddhist customer in March sparked anti-Muslim riots that left at least 43 people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes. Last month, seven Muslim men were also imprisoned for the death of a Buddhist monk during that unrest.

In both cases, most of the remaining suspects under investigation are Buddhists. Seventy-four suspects in custody in Meikhtila have been charged with the destruction of property and murder, while 44 suspects in Lashio have been detained but not yet charged, according to regional authorities.

Kyaw Khin, chief secretary of the All Burma Muslim Federation, told The Irrawaddy that he had no comment on the convictions of those who were guilty.

“If they are guilty of the crime, they should be punished fairly—no bias against religion and race,” he said.

“But as of now, all the people who have earned imprisonment are minority Muslims. So I have to ask, where are the majority [Buddhist] people who committed the crimes of looting, rampaging, arson and killing during the riots?”

Kyee Myint of the Myanmar Lawyers’ Network called on the government to ensure equal treatment for suspects of all religions.

“At the moment, they are just playing a game of politics to please the Buddhist majority,” he said.

“But don’t worry: They are going to sentence Buddhists who were involved in the riots very soon.”

15 Responses to Burma Imprisons Two Muslim Women for Sparking Okkan Unrest

  1. Everyone should be treated equal under the Rule of Law, How about Burmese Buddhist who had committed crime like ARSON, MURDER,LOOTING, etc. No one should be above the Law, ANYONE who had broken the Law should be apprehended and sentenced according to the Burmese Penal Code, Muslims or Buddhist, Layman, Monks or Mullahs,they should be taken into custody. Then only the citizens will have peace knowing their is EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER THE LAW which is the word etched on the building of the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

  2. Were they given to have fair trial?

  3. What an injustice. First all the minorities innocents got imprisoned and not a single voice against the perparators Burmese Buddisht. Brutal government like previous junta. No difference. No law and order. Mr. Thein Sein you have become a puppet of Than Shwe the butcher.

  4. Burmese don’t seem to understand “PR” (public relations) Just look at the headline. Why say “Muslim” women. Just say two women. I know, in Burma people want to make sure “look, the Muslims started this whole riot, it’s all their fault”. First of all this is a childish reaction and secondly to Westerners it looks like “discrimination” if you say “Muslim”. To be guilty of a criminal act should not depend on religion or race. As long as Burmese keep on making these distinctions the violence will never end.

  5. this is a joke ! comedic court – HK , Kuwait City

  6. Well! we know now that Buddhism is “Tit for Tat” religion. Forgiveness, tolerance and compassion totally disappears in the life of Burmese Buddhism.

  7. When two Muslim women are imprisoned, you all come out of your hiding places and shout for justice. When one Rakhaing woman was raped and killed brutally where have you been? When one Muslim goon sprinkled petrol on a Shan lady and set her fire, where have you been? If all of you have protested that day against the perpetrators, there would have been no turmoil and race killings and arson. So if any Muslim out of provocation makes all those attacks in future, please raise your voice. In Rakhine, by the way, the bystanders at the bus station of Taungup requested the microbus driver not to stop there. But the ten Muslim Tablig members (one of them was actually a Buddhist driver) who were back from their trip to Rakhine from making ‘conversions’ (as it is what the Tablig groups are supposed to do), were killed at the hand of the mob. And what do you say when Muslims by the thousands rallied after their Friday prayers, started rioting and arson, and totally destroyed seven villages in the outskirts of Maungdaw last June? Now if you want two to tango, you can do so with the ghost of Osama bin Laden, your faithful.

    • Get your story form reputable sources. The Rakhaing woman was NOT raped. There was NO trace of evidence of rape on her. This article by Dr. Zar Ni was on Irrawaddy. That Muslims goon sprinkling petrol on a Shan lady and set her fire was a set up. The guy was drugged. Not enough evidence that he was a Muslim. The Muslims by the thousands rallied after their Friday prayers and protested; they did NOT start rioting and arson.

  8. AmandaSwe, again your jaundiced eyes are showing. If the rally from Friday prayers not start rioting, how did the shops get burned? How did the doctor couple were attacked? You’ll say it was done by their housemaid? Who instigated the housemaid then? We know very well which side Dr Zar Ni takes and why. Did you say the Shan lady was not burned? Just turn the pages of the Irrawaddy a few days back, and you will know. And annihilation of seven villages around Maungdaw is not fairytale. It really took place and I will request you to please visit Maungdaw before you comment on this page. On 8 June last the local parliamentarian took permission for a peaceful rally, and then the rally turned violent and it went out of control. Before that incidence, a Pakistani retired UNHCR official visited part of Bangladesh’s southeast, including Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf. He held a series of meetings with the militant rohingya leaders. Three days before the rioting in Maungdaw, he was reported in Bangladesh newspapers to have distributed a large sum of money to the militants. These reports are not fake, and they were reported in the Bengali dailies of Dhaka, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.

    • mong pru,

      You know, you people are so biased that you will never even know what is hitting you and keeping you from advancing on par with other societies even within Southeast Asia. I am not going to waste time other than give you tips to google “About Wirathu by Francis Wade” to know that the world is not fooled about who is the aggressor.

  9. AmandaSwe, How much have you advanced? And your society? I couldn’t get a western education. Alright. But I have a son at the heart of the Biotech farms in Boston. I have other sons who are also western educated. And many of my friends and relatives are in Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan. And if that means advancement in your eyes – yes, it is! You are fascinated with all the reports of the western journalists with their own agenda. You’ll continue to live so and continue to depend on them for your source of information and that you regard as from the horse’s mouth. I visit Maungdaw at least 3 or 4 times every year, because I haven’t forgotten my birthplace. and for me your kind of development is just so superficial, I just pity you! Burma remains underdeveloped not because of people like me, but because there was a stupid dictatorship that never wanted people to enjoy freedom. Burmese people, from their own heart and soul, are so development minded and development oriented that even under the worst form of dictatorship they survived and learned all the tricks of survival unlike many in the third world countries. please change your kind of negativism on Burma and its people. Because of the progressive idea in the people, Burma today is moving towards democracy. If you cannot see this you have missed a lot. And please do not brag to be educated, advanced, … they are all meaningless. I have a Japanese friend. She has two PhDs. And she speaks 34 languages. She loves Myanmar more than anything else. I said, there is hardly any reason to be happy with what Burma is today, but why are you so much in love with Burma (she stays around three months a year in Burma)? In her accented Burmese she said, ‘our kind of progress and development are just superficial. A Japanese earns money well. But they live in ‘tubes’ in hotels rather than houses. They have no time to spare for socializing. They are on the run, always. Is that life progressive? The life in Burma is lazy, people work but they don’t rush They even have time for religion!’ I don’t think she has been totally wrong and you are totally right.

    • No need to brag about your children’s college degrees. College degrees does NOT equal education. is YOUR opinion that I am fascinated with all the reports of the western journalists with their own agenda. Western journalist based in Bangkok are more reliable than propaganda news by the Burmese government which you already know.
      The Burmese people under siege by Ne Win survived via learning all kinds of tricks because of the abundance of the land which has slowly been controlled by the government. If you call bigots leading democracy progressive idea in the people, and think Burma today is moving towards democracy, you are hopeless. It is simple why that Japanese lady loves to stay in Burma. It is because it is less stressful than being in Japan, a country with little resources, making people having to work like robots. I never said Japanese society was a model to imitate but do not compare apple and orange to avoid the facts that Burma is in shit and Burmese people today, including the so called democampers, are more ignorant than before. If life in Burma is so enjoyable, why didn’t you choose to raise your children there. You are nothing but a hypocrite. Burma is NOT the only country in the world where people do not rush and have time for socialization and religion.

      I grew up Yangon Burma (in the center of the city) with a Rohingya family next door. The father, who had a bachelor degree in Burmese and a law degree, was originally from Maundaw and the mother from Sittwe. The father was a diplomat to India until Ne Win’s government demoted him. The mother died long time ago, The father died last year and all his children out of the country but to some of his relatives, who were genuine Rohingyas, I know what life was/is like to be stripped away of their national Identity cards.

      So don;’t come and tell me about your visiting Maungdaw 3, 4 times a year to act like you have all the facts and you are not prejudiced.

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