Rohingya Activist Arrested After Sharing Photos of Police Crackdown

By Lawi Weng 14 August 2013

RANGOON — A Rohingya activist accused of sharing photographs on Facebook of a police crackdown on displaced Muslims was arrested in Arakan State on Tuesday, a day after a UN special rapporteur on human rights visited the area.

Than Shwe was arrested at his home in the state capital Sittwe and remained in custody on Wednesday, a source close to his family told The Irrawaddy, although the UN special rapporteur, Tomás Ojea Quintana, had urged the state government to release him.

Aung Win, who spoke on behalf of the family, said Than Shwe’s wife called Quintana on Tuesday and told him that her husband had been detained.

“He [Quintana] told our community leaders that he has already told the government to release all people who have been detained, included Than Shwe,” said Aung Win.

Than Shwe, who delivers food to IDP camps in Sittwe, allegedly shared photographs that show authorities clashing on Friday with a crowd of Muslims who had gathered at an IDP camp outside the city after the corpse of a Rohingya fisherman washed onshore nearby.

Earlier on Friday morning, an angry mob had gathered outside a police outpost demanding the body of the fisherman, who was believed to have drowned. When police reportedly refused to provide the body, a skirmish broke out between both sides. The clash at the IDP camp occurred later in the evening, with police reportedly firing into the crowd.

One person was killed and 10 were injured in the violence, the UN refugee agency reported Tuesday.

Than Shwe has also been accused of sharing a photograph of the dead fisherman. Aung Win said the photograph shows severe bruising on the body and has raised suspicions in the local community that fisherman was beaten or forcibly drowned by authorities.

Aung Win said Than Shwe took the photographs himself and shared them with a friend on Facebook but did not publicly post them. However, The Irrawaddy could not confirm with other sources who was responsible for taking the photographs.

A police officer at No. 1 Police Station in Sittwe said Than Shwe was being held at the station but would not reveal the charges against him.

“It is better to ask our high-level officers because it was an order from the high-level officers to arrest him,” said the police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We do not know the reason why he was arrested.”

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday called for dialogue between displaced Muslims in Arakan State and national authorities.

“UNHCR is reiterating its call for peaceful dialogue and confidence building between the IDPs and government. We believe this is key to avoiding further violence,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva, according to a statement posted on the UNHCR website.

Edwards said the situation in the camps was calm enough for humanitarian work to resume.

“Our teams are working with partners and the IDPs to strengthen camp management and help establish reliable camp committees that can mitigate any future tensions,” he told reporters. “Camp coordination and camp management activities are of paramount important to assist in ensuring constructive dialogue with the authorities in order to prevent future incidents.”

About 140,000 people were forced from their homes in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the state last year, according to the UN, and most were Rohingya, a minority group that faces widespread discrimination in the country.

The IDPs are currently staying in 76 camps and other temporary shelters, with government restrictions imposed on their movements.

Movement restrictions on the Rohingya have also left as any as 36,000 people isolated in several townships, including Minbya, Myebon, Pauktaw, Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Sittwe, according to the United Nations. These communities have limited or no access to basic services including markets, education and health care.