Petition Launched Over Anti-Muslim Violence Against Vendors

By Tin Htet Paing 21 April 2016

RANGOON — An online petition has been launched to push Rangoon’s chief minister to take action against Buddhist monks who on Sunday threatened Muslim vendors not to sell items near Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda.

The petition was created by a Burmese man who identifies as “Thet Swe Win,” and it is addressed to Phyo Min Thein, Rangoon’s new chief minister, urging him to respond lawfully to the Buddhist monks who mistreated Muslim vendors on Burma’s New Year’s Day.

Thet Swe Win claimed in the petition that multiple Buddhist monks in the area around the pagoda seized goods from Muslim vendors and demanded letters from them to the police and local authorities stating that they would close shops around the pagoda in the future. These threats also included physical assaults, he added.

“We demand [the authorities] take effective action, since this incident could lead to religious disputes and have a negative impact on [Burma’s] democratic transition and on interfaith harmony in the country,” Thet Swe Win said in the petition.

He also said the monks’ actions violated Article 370(a) of the Constitution, which states that every citizen has, in accordance with the law, the right to conduct business freely in the Union for national economic development.

The petition gained more than 2,500 supporters within 24 hours after it was launched on change.org on Wednesday.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach Thet Swe Win for comment on Thursday.

According to a report by Central Ma Ba Tha Online Media on Wednesday, U Thu Seikkta, secretary of the Patriotic Monks Union (in Rangoon) admitted to physically assaulting Muslim vendors but said that it was because the vendors were trying to escape.

He added that the actions were not related to the nationalist monk association, Ma Ba Tha.

“No one could have done anything if they had bombed the pagoda while wearing their burqas, in which case they would not have been able to be identified,” the media outlet quoted U Thu Seikkta as saying in the report.

“That’s why we prevented them from selling goods around there,” he said. “Our group is going to continue doing this for the sake of Shwedagon Pagoda.”

Thaung Htut, a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker for Rangoon’s Bahan Township and a member of Rangoon’s Social Affairs Committee, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that there would be a committee meeting on Friday, at which time he would attempt to put the incident on the table for wider discussion with other committee members.

“It’s an important issue, and we have to handle such a case fairly,” he said.

Since anti-Muslim riots broke out in Arakan State in 2012, relations between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Burma have deteriorated. Many political analysts believe that one of the biggest challenges for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government will be to generate stability in areas beleaguered by religious strife.