Buddhist Nationalists Force Shut Down of Three Ramadan Worship Sites in Yangon

By Htet Kaung Lin 16 May 2019

YANGON—Three temporary Islamic places of worship set up for the month of Ramadan were shut down in South Dagon Township this week after threats from Buddhist nationalists, the area’s general administrative office said Thursday.

According to South Dagon Township officials, local Islamic leaders had signed agreements to use the buildings as places of worship during Ramadan.

“They [the nationalists] showed up from nowhere and accused the [worship sites] of being illegal. Actually, we already have official permission from the administrative office. Since the places have to shut down, we wonder if those people [the nationalists] are more powerful than the administration officials,” said U Yan Aung, a local of South Dagon Township’s Quarter No. 106, who witnessed the events.

In South Dagon Township, a building owned by U Maung Maung in Quarter No. 26, one owned by Haj. U Tin Soe in Quarter No. 64 and another owned by U Myint Lwin at Quarter No. 106 were given permission to use their space as prayer halls during Ramadan by the Yangon regional government.

U Yan Aung said that the permission was officially granted for use from May 6 to June 7.

According to the general administration officer, who preferred not to be named for fear of his own personal safety, the nationalists gathered at Quarter No. 26 and demanded the shutdown of that prayer hall on May 14. The next day, they went to the buildings in Quarter No. 64 and 106 with the same demands.

The officer said some of the nationalists entered the temporary prayer halls taking pictures, while others encircled the area demanding the halls be shut down.

U Michael Kyaw Myint, who led the nationalists, said Islamic prayer at the houses is unacceptable, and that they will do the same thing in other quarters.

“Who allowed the houses to be used as mosques? Who is neglecting this matter, which has no permission?” U Michael Kyaw Myint said. “They may accept this but we don’t. We are going to find more in this township and stop them.”

According to township officials, the Muslim groups had legal permission to hold the Ramadan activities at the specified sites.

Quarter No. 106 Administration Officer U Than Htike told The Irrawaddy that the incident was the first time in their quarter that a group lead by a Buddhist monk had pressured the administration office’s management like that, and that the incident proves there is no rule of law.

Currently, all three prayers halls have been shut down until further notice.

The rule-of-law criticism—and criticism of the local police response—has gained momentum. Witnesses say police present at the scene took no action as the nationalists stormed into the building.

According to U Nyi Nyi, a Yangon regional parliament lawmaker, local Muslims have wanted to build a permanent place of worship in the area for some time, but South Dagon Township residents have raised objections in the past, hence the temporary Ramadan sites.

Ko Mya Aye, a member of the 88 Generation group, told The Irrawaddy that the nationalists’ disregarded the rule of law by going beyond the management of government officials.

“If there’s no official permission, then legal action can be taken. However, this is showing there are no legal protections for minorities. This is not good for the country,” he said. “As our country is facing many pressures from the international community, this incident is using religious affairs to affect the politics of the country. Our country’s image is affected badly in the face of the international community.”

Similar incidents took place in Yangon’s Thaketa Township in 2017, when nationalists forced the closure of two madrasas.