MEDAN, Indonesia — A group of 14 Muslim asylum seekers from Burma went on trial Wednesday after a deadly brawl at an Indonesian detention center left eight Buddhist fishermen from their country dead.
The violence occurred April 5 in North Sumatra province, where more than 100 ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers—most intercepted off Indonesia’s coast after fleeing Burma in rickety boats—and 11 Buddhists from Burma accused of illegal fishing were being housed together.
Eight Buddhists were killed, and 15 Muslim Rohingya were injured. Three other Buddhists escaped unharmed.
The Rohingya men are being tried at the Medan district court in North Sumatra province. Prosecutors charged them with collective assault and torturing, which carry a maximum sentence of 12 years.
Police and the detention chief say the clash began after a Rohingya Muslim cleric and a fisherman got into a heated debate about religious violence that had erupted a few weeks earlier in central Burma.
However, prosecutors told the court that the Rohingya were angered when a female asylum seeker was sexually harassed by the fishermen.
Early this month the same court acquitted three Rohingya teenagers due to a lack of evidence of involvement in the violence.
Boatloads of Rohingya have been arriving on Indonesia’s shores following a wave of religious violence in Burma, where they are considered illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Hundreds have been killed and more than 100,000 left homeless in clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Arakan Buddhists.
The tensions have tested Burma’s reformist government as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalization after nearly half a century of harsh military rule.