Aug. 3, 2017
Twenty religious and human rights organizations have sent a letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi demanding the protection of Muslims’ right to practice their religion freely in Myanmar. The letter highlights the exploitation of Myanmar’s laws by anti-Muslim forces to restrict Muslims’ freedom to worship.
The letter, released by the Burma Human Rights Network, cites several attempts by “ultra-nationalist mobs” as well as law enforcement authorities to restrict Muslims’ freedom to worship, many of which have led to fines, arrests, and the closing of Muslim schools and prayer halls.
Burma Human Rights Network executive director Kyaw Win told Coconuts: “Under Daw Suu’s NLD government, the international community and minority communities inside Burma have held hope that the ultra-nationalist groups might be contained by the rule of law. As this has not occurred, it has been very disappointing to see that the rule of law in fact has two faces – it is applied very strictly against Muslims but very weakly against nationalists.”
“It is plainly obvious that these groups have undermined the government and the authorities and it is puzzling why the government is so reluctant to respond to this erosion of their own power.”
On June 2, the letter recounts, “authorities arrested three men for organizing Ramadan prayers held in the street outside one of the schools, in which a crowd of 50 to 100 people participated. The right to practice religion freely is a fundamental human right, but these incidents show Muslims in Tharkayta, have been denied this right by both vigilante mobs and local authorities.”
“Their act should be seen as a sign of commitment to their faith, rather than any sort of defiance, but…local authorities issued a statement saying that the locals praying in public ‘threatened stability and rule of law,’ despite the prayers taking place peacefully, without incident.”
One of the organizers of the prayer event was subsequently arrested and charged under Section 21 of the Penal Code, which says that any “entertainment party, competition, show, or traditional festival requires authorities’ approval and must abide by restrictions.”
The organizer now faces up to six months in prison and a K50,000 fine.
The letter also recounts the closing of a 75-year-old mosque in Yangon after the Religious and Cultural Affairs Ministry received public complaints about the mosque.
“The rationale for the closure is apparently that the ministry did not issue permission for the Muslim community to access the premises for religious purposes,” the letter says.
Several requests for assistance by Muslim leaders in Yangon to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi have gone unanswered, according to the letter.
In their recommendations to the government, the signatories demand that authorities “maintain the rule of law rather than appease the ultra-nationalist groups.”
Kyaw Win said: “In some cases we can see that those in the government are intimidated by nationalist groups and want to appease them to reduce political damage they might inflict. In other cases, we can certainly find that some in the government agree with much of what the nationalists promote, and have legislated accordingly.”
“The most worrying suspicion is that some of those within the government or armed forces may in fact be coordinating with the nationalists and working towards shared goals,” he said.
They also demand the reopening of mosques and Muslims schools that have been closed and permission to build new mosques.
The letter also calls on the government to invite Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, to visit Myanmar and observe its religious communities.
A list of signatories appears below:
- Arakan Rohingya National Organisation ARNO
- Burma Campaign UK
- Burma Human Rights Network BHRN
- Burma Task Force
- Burmese Muslim Association BMA
- Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
- Chin Human Rights Organization
- Christian Solidarity Worldwide CSW
- Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)
- Geutanyoe Foundation
- Humaniti Malaysia
- International Campaign for the Rohingya
- Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma (JACOB)
- Majlis Perundingan Pertubuhan Islam Malaysia (MAPIM)
- Malaysian Humanitarian Aid and Relief (MAHAR)
- Odhikar Progressive Voice (Myanmar)
- Restless Beings
- Stefanus Alliance International