19 Sentenced to Prison Terms for Meikhtila Violence

By Zarni Mann & Sanay Linn 11 July 2013

RANGOON — Meikthila courts sentenced 19 men to prison terms for their involvement in deadly inter-communal violence that occurred in the town in March. Nine of them will have to serve between seven years and life in prison, officials and state media said.

Earlier this week, authorities also allowed the reopening of several Meikhtila mosques, offering the Muslim community a chance to worship during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts on Thursday in Burma.

On Wednesday, the Meikhtila township and district courts in Mandalay Division handed down sentences to a group of men involved in the clashes between Buddhists and the town’s Muslim minority. The violence left 40 people dead, 60 injured, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Htay Ko Ko Aung, a.ka. Joe Joe, received the heaviest punishment and was sentenced to life twice in two cases involving the murders of two university students, he was also charged with destroying public buildings and inciting unrest, a Meikhtila District official said.

Maung Maung Myint, a.k.a A Ju, was twice sentenced to 10 years with hard labor for his role in the murder cases, according to the official, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Lee Lee, a.ka. Han Lint, and Mali, a.ka. Aung Ko Latt, both received seven years imprisonment with hard labor for aiding and abetting a murder, destroying public property and inciting unrest, he said.

State-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that another 15 men had been sentenced on Wednesday for their involvement in the riots.

Hein Min Zar, a.k.a. Wa Toke, received a prison sentence of seven years for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, destroying public property, attempted robbery and inciting unrest.

Kyaw Htay, a.k.a. Kyaw Sein Win, received a five year and a ten year sentence on charges of murder and voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Hsin Pauk, a.k.a Pyai Phyo Zin, received 10 years for murder, as did convict Zaw Lin.

Another man, Kyaw Zwa, a.k.a. Mohamed Ali, was sentenced to seven years with hard labor for voluntarily causing grievous hurt.

Ten other defendants were sentenced to prison terms of between one and five years with hard labor for their involvement in the inter-communal violence.

State media and the interviewed district official did not specify if the convicts were Muslims or Buddhists.

It also remained unclear in which incidents of violence the men had been involved. The Associated Press reported that seven Buddhist men among the convicted were punished for their involvement in a massacre at an Islamic boarding school that left dozens of students and teachers dead.

A local reporter said that only family members of the accused had been able to attend the trial, adding that the media had been told by court officials that most men had been sentenced for the destruction of a Muslim-owned gold shop in central Meikhtila.

“We could not go inside and many police guarded the court compound,” he said.

State-owned media have previously reported that 120 people were detained following the violence. In recent weeks, six Buddhist and seven Muslim defendants have been convicted.

Meikhtila authorities earlier this week allowed the town’s Muslim community to reopen three mosques, one located in Nyein Chan Thar Quarter, another in Yadanar Marn Aung Quarter and a third mosque located near the highway just outside the town.

“The mosques are permitted to reopen as the situation is stable now. And most of the refugees have already gone back to their homes,” said Meikhtila District Administrator Tin Maung Soe.

During the anti-Muslim violence in late March, 12 mosques were damaged and two were burned. Authorities have allowed three mosques to rebuild. Some 13,000 people, mostly Muslim, were displaced by the violence and many still live in temporary camps outside the town.

The Meikhtila region remains under a state of emergency, but authorities decided this week to shorten the night curfew with two hours. The public is now required to stay in doors from 10 pm to 4 am.

State security forces have been accused of supporting the Buddhist majority during the anti-Muslim attacks in Meikhtila and reportedly did little to end the violence. Authorities banned mosques in the town from being reopened after the violence because of security reasons.

Aye Lwin, chief convener of the Islamic Centre of Myanmar, welcomed the relaxation of the restrictions this week, as it would offer Muslims an opportunity to worship during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Thursday in Burma.

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast from dawn to sunset.

Aye Lwin said however, that authorities should allow all mosques in Meikthila to be repaired and reopened, adding that in other towns affected by inter-communal violence, such as in Pegu Division, the religious buildings had already been reopened.

“Twelve mosques were attacked. As far as I know, only two were wholly destroyed. The rest are not that badly damaged. They can resume functioning if permitted,” he said.

Yan Aung, a Muslim man who lives in the eastern quarter of Meikhtila, said that his family was struggling to properly mark Ramadan this year because of lingering tensions and government restrictions.

Yan Aung said that if he would go worship at his old mosque he would get arrested, as it remains closed and guarded by armed policemen.

“We just cannot go to say prayers during morning and evening sessions” at the mosque, he said, “Anyhow, we still pray five times a day at home. But, I don’t think that Muslims in the camps can easily keep their fast.”