7 Muslims Sentenced for Killing Monk in Meikhtila

By Zarni Mann 21 May 2013

RANGOON—Seven Muslim men have been sentenced from two years to life in prison for the death of a Buddhist monk during recent religious unrest in the central Burma town of Meikhtila.

Myat Ko Ko, who was accused of murdering the monk, was convicted by a district court and sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison, or 20 years, with labor and an additional four years for defamation and inciting unrest.

Five other defendants were convicted of aiding and assisting the murder, with prison sentences ranging from two years to 16 years. One of those defendants, a 17-year-old, will serve 11 years.

The last defendant, facing several charges at separate district and township courts, was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison.

The defendants’ lawyers accepted the verdict.

“The whole trial was transparent and fair,” Thein Than Oo, one of three lawyers on the defense council, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “Formally, Myat Ko Ko was accused of premeditated murder and could have faced the death penalty. But later the court found that there had bee no premeditation,” so he received a lighter sentence.

“Four fugitives who are also responsible for this murder are still missing,” the lawyer added.

According to the Meikhtila district admissions office, 74 suspects in custody have been charged with murder and the destruction of property during clashes in late March between the town’s Buddhists majority and Muslim minority residents.

“They [the suspects] include Buddhists who killed Muslims. Their trials will end soon as well,” said the district officer, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Days of ant-Muslim riots left at least 43 people dead and displaced thousands more, mostly Muslims, in Meikhtila.

Meanwhile, a special meeting of Parliament convened in Naypyidaw to discuss the Meikhtila conflict. The lawmakers decided to extend a state of emergency for 60 more days in the town and the townships of Wundwin, Mahlaing and Tharzi. The state of emergency was first imposed on March 22.

“We welcome the extension of the state of emergency because we are afraid the conflict could spark again as we resettle the displaced people,” the Meikhtila district officer said.

“There are people who fled to other towns and do not want to come back,” he added. “Some people living in the conflict zones, in areas close to Buddhist monasteries, do not want the Muslim people to come back, although people from other areas are willing to accept them.”

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi criticized the government’s initial decision to impose martial law in March, saying a clear justification had not been provided.

The rioting in Meikhtila began after a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and a Buddhist customer on March 20 prompted an angry mob to destroy the shop. Later that day, a monk died after being attacked by a group of Muslims, and more clashes ensued.

In the coming days, rioting spread to other towns in Mandalay Division and Pegu Division, with hundreds of homes destroyed in the unrest.

The owners of the gold shop, along with one employee, were earlier sentenced to 14 years in prison for aggravated assault, attempted injury, and aiding and abetting crimes.

Sanay Linn contributed to this article.