As Rakhine Bleeds, Muslims Persecuted Across Myanmar: Report

An exhausted Rohingya woman arrives with her children at Kutupalong refugee camp after crossing from Myanmmar to the Bangladesh side of the border in September in Ukhia. Photo: Bernat Armangue / Associated Press

BANGKOK — A new report says persecution of Muslims has spread across Myanmar beyond the Rohingya homeland of Rakhine, where a paroxysm of violence has claimed hundreds of lives since it erupted last month.

From interfering with Muslim holidays to declaring so-called Muslim-free zones in more than a dozen locations, Myanmar Muslims are facing increasingly severe restrictions and discrimination, found a report released Tuesday by the London-based Burma Human Rights Network.

The report, entitled “Persecutions of Muslims in Burma,” was launched at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand as a recent upsurge in sectarian violence in Rakhine state has led to a mass exodus of Rohingya into Bangladesh. United Nations estimates say more than 123,000 have made the crossing since clashes reignited on Aug. 25.

The report drew on more than 350 interviews conducted in more than 46 towns and villages over an eight-month period. It asserts that the persecution of Muslims is not limited to the Rohingya or to Rakhine state, saying that intolerance and discrimination has spread to areas such as Yangon and Kayin state.

Kyaw Win, executive director of the network, presented the report in Bangkok and talked about growing propaganda that espouses the notion that all Muslims, not just the Rohingya, are a threat to Myanmar.

“I am being treated as a stranger and an intruder,” said Kyaw Win, referring to the spread of anti-Muslim slogans.

”This is a Buddhist village. Other religions not allowed. We are honest and racially superior. Sinmakaw Village must be a purely Buddhist village,’ reads a sign in the Sinmataw Village of Kyauk Tann Township, Yangon. Photo: Burma Human Rights Network

At least 21 villages across the country have declared themselves “Muslim-free” and warned Muslims not to enter. Kyaw Win showed a photo of a sign in Shan state’s Yatsawk township in the local language with three declarations:

“1. Muslims are not allowed to stay overnight. 2. Muslims are not allowed to buy or rent properties. 3. No one is allowed to marry a Muslim.”

The sign was erected by a group called the Patriotic Youth Organization.

In Pha Yar Gyi Village, Kyaung Kone Township, Irrawaddy Division, a similar sign warned that “Anyone who breaches the local rules will be labelled a traitor and punished by the local people.”

The report also showed a signpost in the Oyinn Village of Ngathayauk Township in Mandalay, part of which said: “Do not regret later when your race and religion [are] wiped out, but be vigilant and defend it now.”

The 100-page report cites examples such as damaged or destroyed mosques that are prevented from being rebuilt.

“In Burma, the refusal by authorities to allow the rebuilding of destroyed mosques and the [barring] of Muslims returning to their places of worship appears to be part of a calculated strategy to deny religious expression for Muslims,” the report said.

It cited ongoing intolerance being preached by ultranationalist Buddhist extremists previously blamed for the 2012 Rakhine riots that killed nearly 100 and displaced roughly 100,000 people.

“In the lead up to an event to mark Prophet Day in Yangon, January 2017 … a crowd of 300 people gathered outside the venue, including monk U Thusita, and were told that Muslims intentionally committed rapes and killings [of] members of other religions…” the report said.

In Rakhine state, arbitrary arrests, arson and destruction of food and aid have taken place, said Kyaw Win.

‘1. Muslims are not allowed to stay overnight. 2. Muslims are not allowed to buy or rent properties. 3. No one is allowed to marry a Muslim,’ reads one of many signs erected in communities across Myanamar. Photo: Burma Human Rights Network

While Kyaw Win reserves kind words for Thailand as a “second home” for those who have fled persecution in Myanmar and gave “great thanks to Thai communities,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson urged Thailand stop treating refugees as a threat.

“The Rohingya people, when they arrive, should not be treated as a security threat,” Robertson said at the launch of the report at the FCCT. “Thailand has been treating them as a security threat. This is the wrong approach,” said Robertson, adding that in a month’s time, the current and winds will allow for another exodus of Rohingya by boat to Thailand and elsewhere.

As recently as Friday, deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan showed no sign of relenting when he pointedly referred in a speech to the Rohingya as Bengalis, adopting the same language used by Naypyidaw. Myanmar authorities from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi down say the Rohingya, which have lived in Myanmar for generations, are illegal immigrants.

On Monday, the Burma pulled its Burmese language service, out of a deal with a Myanmar television network for censoring its reports, namely for using the word Rohingya.

Robertson’s organization has called for a halt in hostilities after satellite images found about 700 buildings in Rohingya communities put to the torch in Rakhine state.

Another speaker, Lilianne Fan, International Director for Humaniti Malaysia, an NGO working on the Rohingya issue, said Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have been trying to convince Myanmar to change its course on the Rohingya. Fan said she hopes Asean nations will do more, soon.