Myanmar Rohingya ‘tortured over alleged terror ties'
|In this file picture from 2013, Muslim children gather at a well in northern Arakan's Maungdaw township. (Photo: AP)|
By Joshua Carroll
October 11, 2014
Dozens of men from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority have been arrested and tortured because of alleged ties to a militant Islamic organization, according to a rights group.
The Arakan Project, a Thailand-based group that documents abuses against the Rohingya, says one man has been tortured to death in Myanmar’s far north-west, near the border with Bangladesh.
Authorities have rounded up at least 58 men in the last two weeks from several villages in the north of Rakhine state, according to figures compiled by the Arakan Project and seen by the Anadolu Agency.
The wife of the dead man told the group she was forced to sign a statement that her husband died of natural causes.
Last month, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri announced plans to expand his terror network to include Myanmar.
The recently arrested Rohingya men were accused of having ties to a group called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, or RSO.
Despite little being known about the organization’s movements today, sporadic attacks on Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh are often blamed on the RSO. In recent years the organization has also been accused of forging ties to al-Qaeda.
Chris Lewa, the Arakan Project’s founder, told the AA Friday the arrests were “arbitrary” and “clearly a reaction to the al-Qaeda announcement earlier in September.”
She added that the men were picked up at checkpoints or from their villages by members of the Border Guard Police, an organization that Rohingya regularly accuse of human rights abuses.
The RSO is believed to have been formed in the 1990s after the Myanmar army forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya accused of being in the country illegally to flee to Bangladesh.
Its members are understood to have broken away from the more moderate Rohingya Patriotic Front and earned support from extremist religious groups in other countries, including Malaysia and Afghanistan.
Earlier this year Khin Maung Myint , head of foreign relations for the pro-Rohingya National Democratic Party for Development, claimed "the RSO hadn’t existed for 20 years.”
He said stories about RSO movements in the region had led to conspiracy theories and questioned whether the existence of the group was a government smokescreen.
Last year, photos circulated on extremist Buddhist websites purporting to show armed insurgents inside Myanmar preparing to avenge attacks against Rohingya.
The Rohingya have been persecuted in Myanmar for decades but their plight has gained widespread international attention since the former military-ruled country began democratic reforms in 2011.
While hundreds of political prisoners have been freed, censorship has been relaxed and economic reforms brought in, the Rohingyas' suffering has intensified.
In 2012, extremist mobs of Buddhists attacked Rohingya villages in Rakhine's state capital Sittwe. The initial riots killed up to 140 and forced tens of thousands of Rohingyas into squalid camps.
The violence has since spread amidst a wave of hate speech targeting all of Myanmar’s Muslims, led by extremist monks bolstered by the country’s newfound freedoms of expression.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut has described accusations of Rohingya persecution as "baseless."