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ANP Alleges Govt ‘Wrongly’ Issued Citizenship in Arakan State

About 200 participants, including individuals representing civil society organizations, political parties and the Buddhist monkhood, attended the Arakan National Party’s press conference on Sunday, July 24 at the Dolphin Restaurant in Rangoon. (Photo: Pyay Kyaw / The Irrawaddy)

By Moe Myint
July 25, 2016

RANGOON – The Arakan National Party (ANP) and several Arakanese legal experts held a press conference on Sunday alleging that Burma’s previous government had wrongly issued citizenship documents to over 1,000 Muslims in Arakan State’s Myebon Township.

The Arakanese political and legal representatives say that the 97 individuals issued Citizenship Scrutiny Cards—or “pink cards,” which denote full citizenship—and 917 people granted naturalized citizenship, received these statuses in violation of Burma’s controversial 1982 Citizenship Law.

Several ANP leaders said that the main purpose of the press conference was to draw attention to what they allege are similarities between the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s current practices regarding citizenship verification and those of the former military-backed administration.

The ANP is instead calling for stricter verification measures; the party has been active in lobbying to uphold the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has been condemned by the United Nations and the international community as being discriminatory against minorities, including Muslims.

As part of a citizenship verification process initiated in June 2014 by ex-president Thein Sein’s government—under the “Rakhine State Action Plan”—former Arakan State Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn led a team that examined 2,900 applicants who applied for citizenship in Sittwe District’s Myebon Township. These individuals largely belonged to Muslim minorities in the region, including ethnic Kaman and Rohingya.

In December of that year, Arakanese Buddhist residents of Myebon shut their houses and businesses in protest during Maung Maung Ohn’s visit to the township to show their dissatisfaction with the practices of the citizenship scrutiny committee. This caused the government to swiftly suspend the process, which only resumed in May this year.

Thar Pwint, a former lawyer as well as a member of the citizenship scrutiny committee, said the committee was formed of eight people, including six government officials from the township level.

At the press conference, he said that the committee had reportedly checked only the following points at the township level committee: whether the applicants had reached the age of 18, if they were mentally sound, and if they could fluently speak one of the ethnic languages of Burma.

[Although the 1982 Citizenship Law contains the latter provision, it does not list what the ethnic, or “national,” languages actually are—neither does the 2008 Constitution.]

He acknowledged that, at the time, he was not familiar with Burma’s citizenship and immigration laws, even though immigration department officials had distributed pamphlets to the committee members outlining Burma’s three categories of citizenship, as outlined in the 1982 law: full, naturalized and associate.

Thar Pwint alleged that government manipulation of the law “created loopholes for Bengalis,” using a term employed widely throughout Arakan State and elsewhere in Burma to describe the group which self-identifies as Rohingya; “Bengali” implies that the Rohingya are interlopers from Bangladesh, a claim which they reject.

At the press conference, ANP representatives, including party chairman Aye Maung, described an interpretation of the 1982 Citizenship Law focused heavily on articles 42 and 6.

Article 42 states that individuals can obtain naturalized citizenship by demonstrating evidence that they or their parents or grandparents entered Burma before 1948, the year the country gained its independence from Britain.

Article 6 states that those considered citizens at the time the 1982 law came into effect will remain as such, and their status cannot be revoked unless it is found that an individual has attained it under “false representation”—naturalized and associate citizenship can, however, be revoked by the central government on a range of vague pretexts, including “showing disaffection or disloyalty to the State.”

Kyaw Zaw Oo, an ANP lawmaker in the state legislature, argued that according to these measures, applicants for citizenship whose predecessors entered Burma after 1948 are not eligible for any form of citizenship. He pointed out that the previous government’s implementation committee did, however, give “pink cards” [denoting full citizenship] to people who did not meet this criterion, thereby “breaching procedure.”

The Irrawaddy asked ANP vice chairwoman Aye Nu Sein whether the ANP had a plan to address the citizenship status of around 1 million stateless Muslims in Arakan State, approximately 130,000 of whom remain displaced after violence in 2012 and 2013. Echoing other members of the ANP leadership, she said that the only option was adherence to the 1982 Citizenship Law, which she said would provide them with basic rights and greater freedom of movement, without elaborating on how this would be carried out.

“All we want is to keep implementing in line with 1982,” Aye Nu Sein said in reference to the law, adding that the reporter should “not make allusions.”

NLD patron Tin Oo was among party members who attended the event, but he declined to comment. On Monday, both the Arakan State Chief Minister Nyi Pu and Win Lwin, the head of the Population and Immigration Department in Arakan State, could not be reached for comment.

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