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Muslim activists jailed on migration offenses in Myanmar

By Kyaw Ye Lynn
April 10, 2016

Lawyer claims Zaw Zaw Latt and Pyint Phyu Latt sentenced for being Muslims, 'not for breaching any laws'

YANGON, Myanmar -- Two Muslim activists were sentenced Friday to two years prison on charges of contacting a blacklisted organization under Article 17 of Myanmar's Unlawful Association Act.

A court in Chanayetharzan Township in Mandalay, the second largest city and a stronghold of Buddhist nationalist monks, handed down the sentence to 28-year-old Zaw Zaw Latt and 34-year-old Pyint Phyu Latt – already given two years jail on immigration offenses – for a 2013 visit to Laiza city.

Laiza is under the control of Kachin Independence Army (KIA) rebels.

Speaking by phone to Anadolu Agency, Lawyer Thein Than Oo called the sentences “totally unacceptable”.

“If a court decides visiting the rebel control is guilty, many many other people would be jailed. Even [ex] President Thein Sein would be jailed as he had frequently met the people from blacklisted rebel groups,” he said.

“They were sentenced because they are Muslims, not for breaching any laws."

Images -- showing Zaw Zaw Latt with rebels, holding a rifle, and in the company of Buddhist monks, in many cases smiling and laughing -- were posted to Facebook soon after the trip.

They were seized on by the journal of a Buddhist hardline group which claimed Zaw Zaw Latt was working with “Buddhist monks who betray Buddhism” and referenced his contact with the KIA and the photograph of him holding a rifle.

“No one knows who he will be pointing the gun at [next],” claimed journal Ahtu Mashi.

The duo were among three activists on trial from interfaith group Thint Myat Lo Thu Myar (Peace Seekers), which was founded by a Buddhist monk in 2013 after anti-Muslim riots broke out in Meiktila in central Myanmar.

They were arrested along with Hindu activist Zaw Win Bo in July 2015 after Ma Ba Tha -- and other religious nationalists -- waged a public campaign on social media and through Ahtu Mashi against Zaw Zaw Latt.

On Feb. 26, a court in Mandalay handed the three interfaith activists sentences of two-years prison with hard labor for crossing Myanmar's frontier with India, during their trip to Laiza.

“My clients would be sentenced again under this charge until the country’s judiciary system is freed from intervention,” Thein Than Oo told Anadolu Agency last month when the court reopened the trial.

According to Human Rights groups, the sentences illustrate that courts are bowing to pressure from the nationalist anti-Muslim monks, who have claimed that the duo are encouraging interfaith mating and working with those who betray their religion.

Asked if his clients could possibly be released soon under a recently announced government amnesty for political prisoners and activists, Thein Than Oo said “I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen to them.”

“But I am sure they would be released under the amnesty if they were Buddhists.”

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