Rights group slams Myanmar over Rohingya calendar case
December 14, 2015
Calls on gov’t to drop charges against 6 men for printing calendar using quotes supportive of persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority
YANGON, Myanmar -- A rights group called on Myanmar’s government Friday to drop all charges against six men who face up to two years in prison for printing a calendar that used quotes to support the country's persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.
Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, condemned the “absurd” charges in a statement saying that the case “appears to be part of a campaign to strike the term ‘Rohingya’ from the country’s vocabulary.”
Five of the accused –publisher Kyaw Kyaw Wai and his associates -- were taken into custody late last month over a calendar that used what it said were the words of former Myanmar prime minister U Nu to debunk the official view that the Rohingya are not a real ethnic minority.
While the five had previously been arrested and fined $800 earlier in November, the sixth man, Aung Khin, has been in hiding ever since 19 policemen reportedly raided his home at around 2.30 a.m. on Nov. 20.
The calendar has angered Buddhist extremists who regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and insist that they should be referred to as "Bengalis".
The six men are charged with violating Section 505(b) of the penal code, under which a conviction for producing a document with “intent to cause… fear or alarm to the public” can be punished with a two-year term.
The statement Friday criticized the section for its wording being “overly broad” and its history of being “used as a tool of repression against political activists, human rights defenders, and others.”
“There is no justifiable reason to restrict the use of the term ‘Rohingya’,” Smith said.
“If the government is truly concerned about keeping peace, they would stand up for the rights of all people, Rohingya included,” he stressed. “This calendar doesn’t threaten law and order, human rights abuses do.”
The Rohingya are denied citizenship under a 1982 law that has been widely condemned by rights groups.
Most members of the minority live under apartheid-like conditions in western Rakhine state following mob violence led by Buddhists in 2012.
The calendar case is the latest instance of police arresting people at the behest of Buddhist extremists who preach that Myanmar is under threat from Islam.
A New Zealander and his two Myanmar colleagues were jailed earlier this year after using an image of Buddha wearing headphones to advertise an event at their Yangon bar.
Htin Lin Oo, a prominent member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, was jailed after a speech last October in which he criticized the use of Buddhism to justify extremism.
The NLD is due to take power around late March after winning a landslide victory in a Nov. 8 election. Spokesperson Win Htein has vowed the party will make releasing political prisoners a "top priority".
But in a recent interview with Anadolu Agency, he declined to comment on whether or not Buddhist extremists would pose a challenge to releasing certain prisoners.