RANGOON — Local prison authorities in Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township say more than 100 “Bengalis” were released this week after serving the duration of their sentences in connection with violence between Buddhists and Muslims that wracked the state in 2012.
Min Maw, Buthidaung Prison’s deputy director, was not available for comment on Wednesday afternoon but fellow prison staffer Win Kyaw confirmed the release of 124 inmates when asked by The Irrawaddy, calling the former prisoners “Bengalis,” the government’s official term for minority Rohingya Muslims.
The president of the Arakan National Party’s Buthidaung chapter, Htun Aung Thein, told The Irrawaddy that he had heard of the prisoners’ release, but could not cite a specific figure and knew only that it was a large number of inmates.
“That is the first time I know of,” he said, referring to the large batch of convicts tied to the 2012 violence who were released this week.
Buthidaung Police Officer Myat Htwe said the number of Rohingya released could be slightly higher.
“As I understand it, around 127 Bengali prisoners were released from their Buthidaung cells. The township police office may know exactly. I don’t know how many Bengalis were jailed in 2012.”
The Irrawaddy phoned the Buthidaung Township police office on Wednesday but Officer Ye Min Oo said the prison could not provide an exact figure because the prisoners were previously transferred from a penitentiary in Maungdaw Township, also in Arakan State.
Twin bouts of violence in 2012 killed more than 100 people and displaced 140,000, most of them Muslims who continue to live in squalid displacement camps outside the Arakan State capital Sittwe and elsewhere in the state.
The first wave of violence in June was sparked by the rape and murder of an Arakanese Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. Of the trio, one reportedly committed suicide in his jail cell while the other two men were sentenced to death.
While an accurate figure of the total number of arrests made in connection with the violence is difficult to ascertain, nearly 200 Muslims are believed to have been imprisoned and Rohingya NGOs contend that far fewer Buddhists were jailed in comparison.