Mandalay Residents Fear Unrest but Grow Frustrated With Curfew

By Zarni Mann 14 July 2014

MANDALAY— Residents in Burma’s second-biggest city are worried about the possibility of a resurgence of violence following the controversial detainment of nine young Muslim men over the weekend.

The men were detained on suspicion of involvement in clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Mandalay earlier this month. Dozens of people have been questioned by the police since the rioting first broke out on July 1, leaving two people dead, while hundreds have been detained at least briefly for violating a nighttime curfew that has since been imposed in the city.

On Saturday, the police apprehended the nine Muslim men in a predominately Muslim neighborhood of Chan Aye Thar San Township, after receiving a tip that they had been involved in the violence.

“Parents of the detainees rushed to the police station and asked the police to release their sons, because they believed their sons had done nothing wrong. A crowd formed and quarreled with the police,” said a witness who lives in the neighborhood, asking not to be named for safety reasons. “We were frightened by the incident and worried that something terrible might break out again. Who knows what will happen next? I just hope that no more problems occur.”

The divisional police announced on Monday that five of the men were sent home to their parents because they were not involved in the riots. The four others are still undergoing questioning.

“They are suspected of hurting people, being involved in the violence, and helping others to hurt people,” an officer from the divisional police said.

He said 34 people had been detained since July 1 for questioning over their involvement in the riots that left at least 14 people injured. Of these, three people were detained last week on suspicions of murder, while 10 people are being questioned over alleged arson, six people over alleged assault, and 10 people for allegedly creating unrest. The others are suspected of having held illegal weapons or committing other crimes.

Meanwhile, about 720 people have been taken into custody for violating the curfew that was imposed on July 3. Residents are required to remain indoors from 9 pm until 5 am.

“Most of them were going back home late,” said the police officer. “Some were released after questioning, while some were released on bail after promising not to go out intentionally. A few were found guilty and received one week in detention.”

Mandalay residents say they continue to worry about the outbreak of more violence but are also eager for an end to the curfew, especially during Buddhist Lent.

Normally during the months of lent, streets in Mandalay come alive before dawn, as people prepare to make donations to Buddhist monks. Under the curfew, people say they cannot prepare for alms before the monks arrive at 5 am.

“Usually, we gather early in the morning to prepare offerings and alms for the monks, but now it is difficult because we can move around only after 5 am,” said Naing Aung, a member of a volunteer youth group. “The timing is so tight for us and we are not ready when the monks arrive. It would be better if the curfew was reduced by one or two hours.”

Businesspeople say the curfew has affected their work.

“Since the authorities said the situation has become stable, it would be better to reduce the curfew. We now have to close our shops early to rush back home, and we can’t send our kids to the cinema because they start closing at 4 pm. We can’t go out early if we want to travel to another city before dawn,” said Maw Maw Win, a textile shop owner.

Muslims say the curfew has prevented them from attending prayer services during the fasting month of Ramadan.

“Since we do our devotion according to the time of sunset and sunrise, the curfew bars us from going to the mosque for prayer services that usually start at 8:30 in the evening and 4 in the morning. Now we have no choice but to pray at home,” said a Muslim elder, requesting anonymity for safety reasons. “But at the mosque, the religious leaders and some laymen never fail to perform the prayer services on time.”

He added, “We don’t want to abolish the curfew because we are afraid violence might break out again. We feel the situation is not totally stable yet. It would be great if the timing of the curfew could be reduced by one hour on each end so as to be more convenient for everybody.”