RANGOON — Police forces in areas of Burma hit by communal violence in recent weeks have done nothing to enforce laws against the distribution of extremist propaganda, local police officers and a government official told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
The CDs containing “969” propaganda, which are readily available on the streets of many towns and cities in the majority Buddhist country, call on Buddhists to avoid dealing with Muslims in daily life, essentially promoting social apartheid.
Police officers in Insein and Mingaladon townships told The Irrawaddy that they had not arrested anyone or seized any CDs, as they have not received orders to do so.
A police officer in Wundwin Township, Mandalay Division, told The Irrawaddy that some people had been arrested for selling them, but he later changed his tune, saying he had not taken action against anyone.
An officer from Pegu Division police force, where violence erupted in March between Buddhists and Muslims, confirmed that there had been no police crackdown on 969 propaganda materials.
There also appears to be some confusion in central government as to how to deal with the spreading of the materials.
An official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs stressed that the CDs were not officially allowed to be distributed, but the ministry would only act if it received pressure to ban them.
“At the moment, people make copies of the CDs and distribute them on their own. I don’t even know whether it is legal or illegal.”
The 969 movement, widely seen as anti-Muslim, is being promoted by a small number of influential monks, most notably U Wirathu.
The numbers 969 represent the nine attributes of the Lord Buddha, the six attributes of his teachings and the attributes of the monkhood.
A number of Rangoon-based businessmen involved in the distribution of 969 CDs told The Irrawaddy that sales of the CDs have dropped significantly due to the news about the arrest of sellers in Pegu Division, Mandalay Division and elsewhere, where violence between Buddhists and Muslims took place.
“I heard that people in places outside Rangoon didn’t buy 969 CDs at all because they were scared of being arrested,” said a businessman in Rangoon’s Yuzana Plaza. “The sales of those CDs have dropped significantly following the recent riots.
“Even shops in Rangoon dare not sell them any longer. I haven’t heard that anyone has ever been arrested for selling them but I was told that CDs were seized,” he said.
“I haven’t heard of any arrests in our area either, but I don’t sell 969 CDs anymore because of the rumors about such actions,” said Kyaw Zaw Lin, a CD shop owner in Rangoon’s Thingungyun Township.
“I am not sure if the arrest of sellers and the seizure of 969 CDs are carried out as an attempt to prevent further racial and religious unrest,” he added.