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Myanmar to deport Pakistanis for giving mosque sermon

By Kyaw Ye Lynn
July 31, 2016

Official Muslim body tells Anadolu Agency men visited mosques and gave sermons, for which no official permission is needed

YANGON, Myanmar -- Authorities in Myanmar have detained two Pakistan nationals for giving sermons at mosques in the commercial capital of Yangon

The detentions come amid a spike in the number of cases of religious intolerance in the country, with several mosques and religious buildings attacked in the last month alone.

Officials from the country's official Muslim body said Sunday that the men did little more than visit the mosques and conduct sermons, calling the arrests an oppression of the right to prayer. 

A Yangon police officer told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that Amed Zulfiqar, 63, and his 29-year-old son Amed Saifullah were arrested after arriving in the commercial capital July 26, and giving sermons in Panbetan, Kyauktada and Mingala Taungnyunt Townships without seeking permission from authorities.

“They entered the country with a tourist visa, and are not permitted to give sermons under visa rules and regulations,” the police officer, who did not wish to be named as he was not authorized talk to media, said.

“They were detained Saturday at a township police station for interrogation."

The duo face a possible six months in prison, a fine or both if found guilty of breaching the Immigration Laws, however the police officer said they would most likely be deported as soon as negotiations with the Pakistan embassy in Yangon were complete.

On Sunday, an official from the country's official Muslim body told Anadolu Agency that the duo -- one of which he referred to as "Saya Gyi" (Master) suggesting he is a cleric -- had visited mosques in Yangon, but did nothing wrong.

“They are Muslims. Therefore they visit mosques. They pray together with Burmese [Myanmar] Muslims, and gave sermons, as they were requested to,” said Tin Maung Than, secretary-general of the country's official Muslim body, the Islamic Religious Affairs Council Myanmar.

He added that a township-level official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture had asked the council to stop them from visiting the mosques.

"No official permission is needed for giving sermons. Praying and giving sermons at mosques is the right of a Muslim,” he said, calling the request "a form of oppression.”

Muslims in Myanmar make up just 2.3 percent -- a figure that does not include the around 1.09 million mostly Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State who were not enumerated in last year’s census.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise in the predominantly Buddhist country since communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims broke out in western Rakhine State in mid-2012 and spread to other parts of the country.

Rights groups have urged the government to probe the recent destruction of Muslim religious buildings in the country, and bring justice to victims of religiously motivated violence.

In the past month, a mob has partially destroyed a mosque, a school, a Muslim dwelling, a building under construction -- which villagers had accused of being an illegal religious school -- in the southern Bago region, and set fire to another mosque in Myanmar's north and razed it to the ground.

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