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Rohingya peace-maker thrown in Myanmar jail - Amnesty International

December 6, 2013

Since her release from house arrest three years ago, Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been touring the world as a symbol of the country's transition to democracy.

She's been asking governments and the public to back her country's push for democratic reform.. but she's also facing pressure over the issue of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority.

The rights group has Amnesty International this week launched a campaign to free a community leader and prisoner of conscience, Dr Tun Aung from detention in Myanmar.

Reporter: Auskar Surbakti

Speaker: Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar democracy advocate; Mark Farmaner; Director, Burma Campaign UK; Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International; U Shwe Maung, Myanmar MP; Christopher Lamb, Australia Myanmar Institute

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: While Aung San Suu Kyi is celebrated as a democracy icon, she's now also facing questions about the treatment of Myanmar's ethnic minorities.. particularly Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, which has been racked by sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims. In her recent visit to Australia, Ms Suu Kyi expressed her frustration over the issue during an interview with the ABC's 7.30 program.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: I would like people who are calling on me to speak out to say - call on the Government to establish rule of law. Why has rule of law not been established in Rakhine? If we could put on end to the violence, if we could make sure that there is no further outbreak of violence, we could get those two communities to sort out their differences.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: Human rights groups say Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted by some of the Buddhist majority and accuse authorities of turning a blind eye to the violence. The director of Burma Campaign UK, Mark Farmaner, says Aung San Suu Kyi isn't doing enough to speak-out in support of the minorty group.

MARK FARMANER: Aung San Suu Kyi is unique in the country in that she does have moral authority and she would be able to influence an awful lot of people, not some of the most extreme people, but her words would carry weight and she needs to go beyond saying that she condemns all violence and very specifically challenging those extreme nationalists who are promoting hatred and violence in the country.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: There are also claims authorities are wrongly detaining Rohingya Muslims in the wake of religious violence. Amnesty International says one such man, Dr Tun Aung, is serving 17 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit: inciting a riot in Rakhine last June. The group's Asia-Pacific deputy director, Isabelle Arradon, says authorities are using Dr Aung as a scapegoat.

ISABELLE ARRADON: All the information we could find simply proves that Dr Tun Aung had done nothing, except for actually trying to calm the situation, which is why Amnesty International considers that he is a prisoner of conscience and that he should be released unconditionally and at the same time he's suffering from a medical condition, so for a 60-year-old man it is a very long sentence, especially as he has done nothing.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: Rakhine member of parliament, U Shwe Maung, who's one of Myanmar's few Rohingya politicians has also been campaigning for Dr Tun Aung's release. The MP says it's just another example of the ongoing persecution of the minority.. which under the current constitution isn't classified as an indigenous group, barring Rohingya's from citizenship. U Shwe Maung says when Rohingyas are treated as equals, the violence will subside.

U SHWE MAUNG: If government could issue citizenship cards in the Rakhine state to Rohingya, the problem will be solved. The problem is, since Immigration Department is hesitating to issue citizenship cards, then a lot of suspiscion, a lot of accusations are going on. If government decided by history of our rights, it's very clear: government can issue it.

AUSKAR SURBAKTI: But one analyst says the there's no official discrimination against the Rohingya and says Myanmar's government is working to address their plight. The president of the Australia Myanmar Institute and a former Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, Christopher Lamb says human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Burma Campaign UK are ignoring those efforts.

CHRISTOPHER LAMB: The organisations that you mentioned are waging a campaign without referring really to what's being done now. When government leaders meet the leaders from Myanmar they raise the issue of the Rohingya, they also have their own national human rights commission, which is interested in the subject and has it on its agenda. What we will also see during 2014 when Myanmar has the chair of ASEAN, a lot of ASEAN meetings taking place in Myanmar, all of them will have the Rohingya issue somewhere in their agenda.

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