Myanmar Court Jails Rakhine Leader 20 Years For Treason

Aye Maung (C), Ann Township MP and former Arakan National Party leader, speaks to the media while being escorted out of court by police officers after his hearing in Sittwe, Rakhine on March 19, 2019.
STR / AFP

 

A Myanmar court on Tuesday sentenced a prominent ethnic Rakhine leader to 20 years in jail for treason, a verdict likely to intensify anger amid fighting between the ethnic group and the army.

Security forces tried to calm hundreds of supporters outside the court in Rakhine state capital Sittwe as Aye Maung was escorted to a waiting police van following the verdict.

Aye Maung, the former chairman of the Arakan National Party, which is renowned for hard-line views against the Rohingya Muslim minority — was sentenced for treason and defamation over an allegedly inflammatory speech in January 2018, a day before deadly riots.

READ ALSO: New Zealand Attack: Police Release Six Bodies To Families

State-backed media at the time said he railed against the central government for treating the ethnic Rakhine as “slaves” and said it was the “right time” for the community to launch an armed struggle.

The following evening, Rakhine protesters briefly seized government building and police opened fire, killing seven people.

Aye Maung and a fellow detainee, writer Wai Hin Aung, who also gave a speech at the same rally were detained days later.

“Both Dr Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung were sentenced to 20 years each… for the charge of high treason and two years each for defamation of the state,” Wai Hin Aung’s defence lawyer Aye Nu Sein told AFP.

Myanmar’s Rakhine state is cut by violence and hatred.

A brutal military crackdown in 2017 forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh.

Yet the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population, some of whom are accused of aiding soldiers in the anti-Rohingya campaign, also feels marginalised by the state.

The lawyer said they were discussing whether to appeal.

Treason can carry the death sentence.

‘Oppression and bullying’

Supporters of the pair were enraged by the perceived persecution of two prominent Rakhine figures.

“This is not fair. This is oppression and bullying of ethnic Rakhine people,” one woman shouted in front of court, as the protesters spread to the centre of the town.

In recent weeks, the military has waged war on the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group claiming to represent the ethnic Rakhine.

The group launched a brazen attack on police posts in early January that killed 13 officers and killed nine more policemen earlier this month.

The violence has spread to the ancient temple city of Mrauk U, the former capital of the Rakhine kingdom and a popular tourist site — the same town where Aye Maung gave his controversial speech last year.

Support for the AA has grown with the fighting, even though several thousand Rakhine have been forced from their homes by the violence.

A further 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine without citizenship, restricted to either camps or their villages, many unable to access medical care.

Much of northern Rakhine is in lockdown and information is difficult to verify independently.

AFP

Myanmar Court Postpones Verdict For Reuters Journalists

Reuters journalist Wa Lone arrives in court in Yangon on August 27, 2018 to face verdict after months of trial since they were detained on December 12, 2017. Ye Aung Thu / AFP

 

A Myanmar court postponed ruling on Monday on whether two Reuters journalists violated a state secrets law while reporting on the Rohingya crisis, with a new date set for next week.

“The verdict will be announced on September 3,” said district judge Khin Maung Maung in a swift hearing at a courthouse in Yangon, adding that the presiding judge was sick.

The decision delays the long-anticipated ruling for Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who has been in Myanmar’s Insein prison for some eight months.

They were arrested in December after being invited to a dinner with police in Yangon and pounced on as they left the restaurant, accused of possessing classified material.

Authorities charged them with violating a colonial-era state secrets act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.

But the claims were undercut by a police witness who said his superior had ordered a set-up and by arguments that the allegedly secret documents had been published in state media.

The case has sparked fears of eroding press freedoms under civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reuters has robustly denied the charges and the newswire launched a global advocacy campaign that included diplomats, celebrities and the legal assistance of prominent rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

“Whatever they decide for us, we will not be afraid,” Wa Lone told reporters as he left the courthouse and was led back into a police van.

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were probing the September 2017 massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Myanmar’s Rakhine state a week after the military launched a sweeping crackdown on members of the stateless Muslim minority.

The United Nations and Washington have called the campaign “ethnic cleansing”, after some 700,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine for Bangladesh, bringing with them testimonies of rape, arson, and killings in the northern part of the state.

Myanmar rejects the charges but has admitted the killings investigated by Reuters took place.

AFP