Human rights group deplores Myanmar court extension of Rohingya activist Kyaw Hla Aung detention
August 6, 2014
A court in Myanmar's Rakhine state has extended the detention of a prominent Rohingya human rights activist.
Kyaw Hla Aung was arrested last year by Myanmar police who accused him of instigating protests against government efforts to register Rohingyas as 'Bengali', and not Myanmar citizens.
Human rights organisation Fortify Rights says the case against Kyaw Hla Aung is totally without merit.
Executive director Matthew Smith has told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific the 74-year-old activist's public profile has made him a police target.
"He's been meeting with ambassadors and other people who had visited Rakhine state who were very concerned about the human rights situation there and this, and some of his other activities, exposed him to the Myanmar authorities in a way that we think led to his arrest and detention," Mr Smith said.
"There are some Rohingya who do have connections to the outside world, to areas outside of Rakhine state and internationally, and there are some who have the ability to communicate the plight of Rohingya.
"Kyaw Hla Aung is one of those people."
"He hasn't done anything wrong, hasn't violated any laws, but he's being persecuted because he's a human rights defender."
"We're trying to urge the central government now to intervene because much of the problems with this particular case stem from the local authorities."
How effective that lobbying will be remains to be seen.
Matthew Smith says the Myanmar government routinely denies the very existence of the Rohingya ethnicity, and severe human rights abuses occur daily against the Muslim population, in spite of international condemnation.
But he says Kyaw Hla Aung has been in detention for more than a year and there are concerns for his health and well-being.
"He has suffered from ill-health in the past," he said.
"Rakhine state is a very difficult place to be if you suffer from health problems, and being in prison in Rakhine state is even more difficult.
"This should be reason alone to do something about his incarceration right now."
Fortify Rights says since violence started in 2012, authorities have arrested more than one thousand Rohingya men and boys, and an unknown number remain behind bars.
Matthew Smith says the international community needs to get serious about the severe human rights violations that are persisting in Rakhine state.
"What we're trying to do now is to press upon various actors in the international community to pressure not only Naypidaw, but also the local authorities in Rakhine state, to respect and protect the human rights of the Rohingya community."