20 Burmese Muslims Jailed on Terrorism Charges
|A prisoner grips the bars on the window of a prison van as he leaves a court in Rangoon in 2012. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)|
By Zarni Mann
January 13, 2015
MANDALAY – Twenty Muslims accused of having links with terrorists have been sentenced to 7 to14 years in prison in Taunggyi, Shan State, following a five-month trial that their lawyer has decried as biased and without evidence.
Fifteen men and four women were sentenced to 14 years each, while a boy under 15 years old was given a seven-year sentence, according to the defendants’ lawyer. One of the men, Thein Zaw, also faces an additional sentence of five years for an immigration offense.
“They were sentenced under articles 5(j) and 5(l) of Burma’s Emergency Provisions Act. They were given the maximum sentence even though no one could provide evidence that they have links to terrorists,” said attorney Thein Shwe.
“These sentences are unfair because… the evidence presented, which was based only on a police report, is insufficient to prove them as terrorists. They are just normal people,” he added.
The 20 convicted Muslims were arrested in August while traveling to a wedding in Konhein, Shan State. The bride, her mother-in-law, her sister-in-law and their cook were among those sentenced on Monday.
Thein Shwe said that his clients were not carrying any weapons and bore no evidence of links with terrorists, suggesting that they had been profiled based on their appearance and religion.
“What police seized from them were foods and materials for making Biryani,” he said.
All of the prisoners are being held at a prison in Taunggyi. Thein Shwe, who said that the group will appeal the verdict next week, claimed that the judicial proceedings had been tampered with by Buddhists affiliated with the nationalist group 969, who he said attended most hearings and harassed the families of the accused.
Members of 969 and its affiliate Ma Ba Tha, however, did not attend Monday’s hearing and could not comment on the accusation.