RANGOON — Two madrasas near downtown Rangoon were sealed off by an alleged Buddhist nationalist group on Friday evening, making the accusation that the Islamic schools were operating as mosques, without official permission.
Residents in the area, which includes Anawmar 11 and 12 streets in Thaketa Township, said the religious buildings were shut down without any official decree. They claimed that police and city officials were also present on-site when the madrasas were locked down by a mob of nearly 50 nationalists.
Crowds gathered in the area on late Friday afternoon, leading to a public brawl as the buildings were locked. A videographer working for the Associated Press—Ko Min Kyi Thein—was reportedly attacked by the nationalists while filming the incident.
At the time of reporting, the police did not allow representatives of the media within the vicinity of the buildings as they were being sealed off, stating that they intended to prevent further conflict. However, others appeared to be let in. Streets leading to the madrasas were blocked with barricades manned by security forces—more than 100 police were deployed to the scene.
Dr. Wai Phyo Aung, the National League for Democracy lawmaker who represents the township, was present at the site of the incident. He appeared reluctant to comment on the situation, only stating that an official announcement would be made soon, but not clarifying when this might occur.
The area is home to one large mosque and three madrasas, including the two sealed off on Friday. Muslims in the neighborhood said they were worried that the remaining madrasa and the mosque would also soon be locked down by nationalists.
The Irrawaddy reporter on the ground was threatened when he tried to get comments from the nationalists, and was forced to leave the area.
Maung Hla Win, a local Muslim, said, “there are Buddhists who stayed on our street. We accepted them, and they accepted us. We did not have a problem.”
“But the men who came here [today] just did as they liked,” he added.
Another Muslim, Ko Ye Kyaw, said that the group of nationalists arrived at around 2 p.m.
“We did not act violent toward them, because we knew if we did, we would face violence,” he explained.
The Irrawaddy was told that Muslims in the area were informed beforehand to close the religious schools right after the Thingyan water festival in mid-April, but the claim could not be independently verified.