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Myanmar Muslims face charges for holding Ramadan prayers

Hardline Buddhist monks rally against Rohingya Muslims in Yangon this year. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

June 2, 2017

Police charge three men who prayed in street after school where they used to worship was shut down by nationalists

Authorities in Myanmar have charged three Muslim men for holding Ramadan prayers in the street after the local school where they used to worship was shut down by a nationalist mob.

Police brought the charges after about 50 Muslims gathered to pray on Wednesday on a road in Yangon’s Thaketa township, the site of one of a growing number of raids by Buddhist hardliners on Islamic events.

Two nearby Islamic schools were closed in late April after ultra-nationalists complained that local Muslims were illegally using them to conduct prayers.

Authorities have said the closure is temporary, but have given no timeline for when they may be reopened.

“We feel sorry. This month is important for us,” said the local Muslim leader Zaw Min Latt, referring to the holy month of Ramadan, which began last week.

“We used those schools for prayer for decades. These restrictions have been brought in after more than 60 years.”

Local authorities issued a statement saying the prayer session threatened “stability and the rule of law” in the mainly Muslim neighbourhood in the east of Myanmar’s commercial capital.

A police officer who asked not to be named confirmed the charges.

Two officers tried to stop AFP journalists from filming when they visited one of the madrasas on Friday.

“It’s our mosque as well as our school. We don’t know when it will be reopened,” Khin Soe, a local resident in his 50s, said as he set off to pray in another part of town.

The case comes as Myanmar’s government has been seeking to clamp down on hate speech after a spike in anti-Muslim actions by hardliners from the country’s Buddhist majority.

Religious tensions have soared since a group of Rohingya Muslims attacked police posts in Rakhine state in October, sparking a bloody military crackdown that has drawn widespread international condemnation

Last week Myanmar’s top Buddhist authority officially banned the Ma Ba Tha, an ultra-nationalist movement affiliated with the firebrand cleric Wirathu, which responded by simply changing its name.

The move came after nationalists this month clashed with Muslims in another Muslim neighbourhood in Yangon, after pushing police to raid a house there in search of illegal Rohingya Muslim hideouts.

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