Two Men Sentenced to Prison Terms for Okkan Violence

By Lawi Weng 25 September 2013

RANGOON — Taik Kyi Township Court on Tuesday sentenced two Buddhist men to five years imprisonment for their role in the violence that erupted in April between Buddhists and Muslims in Okkan, a town located not far from Rangoon.

“Two of them got five years each. The court sentenced them for their involvement in arson and destroying public property,” said Myint Maung, in Rangoon’s Division’s Taik Kyi Township police officer.

“The court plans to sentence another 20 detainees, but no date has been set yet,” he said. A total of about 40 suspects were reportedly detained by local police in May and June for their involvement in the April violence.

Myint Thein, a local political leader, said the men who were sentenced on Tuesday are Soe Win and Kyaw Myo Thu, both from Khon Nyi Tan Village. On Wednesday, another eight suspects are due to be sentenced for their role in the inter-communal violence, he added.

Last month, the Taik Kyi Court sentenced three other Buddhist men on charges of destroying property and carrying out violence, Myint Thein said, adding that a detainee named Sein Han received five years imprisonment, while detainees Win Than and Kyi Khaing Pyo were both sentenced to seven years.

Aye Taung, a Muslim resident from Okkan whose parents lost their home during the April violence, said he felt disappointed by the recent sentences. “We feel the court could have handed down stronger sentences than this,” he said.

An altercation between a Muslim woman and Buddhist novice monk sparked an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Okkan in late April. Buddhist mobs went on a rampage, burning down 81 Muslim-owned homes and businesses and one mosque, while killing one Muslim man and injuring nine others.

In June, Taik Kyi Court convicted two Muslim women for their involvement in the altercation with the 11-year-old novice. They were each sentenced to two years in prison and hard labor under the Penal Code charges 295 and 296, which provide punishment for “insulting religion or religious beliefs.”

Okkan, a Rangoon Division town located about 100 km north of Rangoon, was among a dozen or so towns that were affected by a wave of anti-Muslim violence that spread through central Burma in March and April. The worst violence occurred in Mandalay Division’s Meikthila in late March, when 40 people were killed, 60 injured and more than 2,000 homes were destroyed.

Muslim leaders and human rights groups have accused Burma’s government of doing little to prevent the violence by Buddhist mobs against the country’s Muslim minority.