Student Activist on Trial for Alleged Role in Anti-Muslim Riots

By Zarni Mann 4 April 2013

An Arakanese student activist went on trial Thursday in Rangoon for allegedly helping to incite a wave of recent anti-Muslim riots in central Burma.

Ye Min Oo, 26, a leader in a Rangoon-based activist group trying to re-establish student unions in Burma, has been held in the notorious Insein Prison for nearly 10 days.

His family says authorities have accused him of encouraging nationalist Buddhist monks— including the monk U Wirathu of the 969 campaign—to organize anti-Muslim riots in the town of Meikhtila and elsewhere in central Burma that left dozens of people dead and hundreds of homes torched.

But his brother Ye Min Aung says the charges are ludicrous.

“How could my brother possibly have forced these abbots to create unrest? This is a mistake,” Ye Min Aung told The Irrawaddy.

He said Ye Min Oo, originally from Burma’s western Arakan State, once knew U Wirathu as a student activist but had not had relations with the monk for years.

“When I met with him [Ye Min Oo] the other day at Insein Prison, he told me that he never did the things he’s been accused of,” Ye Min Aung said. “He said his arrest was unjust.”

U Wirathu is a 45-year-old monk who has become known recently for leading the nationalist 969 campaign, which calls on Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses and communities.

The monk spent nine years in prison for inciting religious conflict but was released in January last year and says his campaign has not been involved in the recent anti-Muslim riots.

Ye Min Oo was charged by the Western District Court of Rangoon under Article 505 (B) of the Penal Code for inciting unrest, a criminal offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.

Ye Min Aung said his brother was taken from his home, a monastery in Rangoon’s Bahan Township, by two unknown officials on the night of March 25.

Family and friends initially reported Ye Min Oo as missing to the police because they had not been informed of his arrest.

“His lawyer and family haven’t been allowed to see him today,” on the opening of the trial, Ye Min Aung said. “We’re saddened by the judicial system.”

Police authorities in Bahan Township were not available on Tuesday to comment.

Ye Min Oo’s colleague Khin Maung Lin, from the Arakan Youth Association, was also detained for about four hours of police questioning.

The police “asked me how I knew Ye Min Oo, what he was doing, where he lives and many things,” Khin Maung Lin said.

“They took away Ye Min Oo’s laptop and mobile phone,” he added. “We’ll do whatever we can to free him, consulting with his lawyers. We believe the charges against him are a mistake.”