Two Buddhists Imprisoned for Arakan State Violence

By Nyein Nyein 29 October 2013

Courts have sentenced two more Arakanese Buddhists to prison for inciting or participating in deadly riots during last year’s inter-communal violence in western Burma.

In Kyaukphyu, a special economic zone in Arakan State, a provincial court last week sentenced Aung Kyaw Than to seven years in prison for his role in the rioting on Oct. 24, 2012. Two people were killed in Kyaukphyu that day in clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims.

Another Arakanese Buddhist, Naing Win, was sentenced last week to three years in prison for possessing a knife, in violation of the Arms Act, during the rioting.

Two waves of violence in Arakan State last year, in June and October, left about 200 people dead and more than 140,000 people displaced. Most of the victims were Rohingya, a minority Muslim ethnic group.

In the October 2012 clashes, at least 84 people were killed and more than 120 were injured, while over 22,000 were displaced during a week of unrest in nine townships.

Since that second wave of fighting, about 10 people have been arrested for questioning in Kyaukphyu, including Aung Kyaw Than and Naing Win. Their lawyers say they will appeal the convictions to the Arakan State Court.

“There was no concrete evidence that he committed the crime,” Htein Lin, representing Aung Kyaw Than, told The Irrawaddy.

A total of 1,189 people have been detained in Arakan State since the violence began in June last year, according to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, citing the Arakan State chief minister. Of those detained, 260 are Buddhists and 882 are Rohingyas. No state officials have been arrested in connection with the conflict and its aftermath, despite allegations from rights groups that state security forces were complicit in the violence.

In the state capital Sittwe, more Arakanese Buddhists are attending trials for their roles in rioting in Kyauktaw and Mrauk-U townships.

Four weeks ago, five Arakanese Buddhists were sentenced to between one and three years in prison for setting fire to homes in a Muslim village known as Purein Gone in Mrauk-U Township, according to defense lawyer Aye Nu Sein. In Kyauktaw, eight people are still on trial for allegedly setting fire to homes, facing a maximum of three years in prison.

On Wednesday this week, several dozens of people will attend a hearing at a township court for their alleged role in a third wave of violence that broke out last month near Thandwe, a southern town in Arakan State.

The suspects—including Arakanese Buddhists and Kaman Muslims—were detained by the national police four weeks ago. Since then, the Ministry of Home Affairs says six suspects have confessed to the killing of seven people in Thandwe, while 28 people are being charged with setting fire to homes.

More than 100 homes were destroyed in the fighting, displacing about 500 Kaman Muslims.