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Muslims get 14 years for brawl that sparked unrest

At least 43 were killed after fight over a broken hairpin

Thousands of Muslims were displaced in last month's riots (photo: Daniel Wynn) Thousands of Muslims were displaced in last month's riots (photo: Daniel Wynn)
  • Daniel Wynn, Yangon
  • Myanmar
  • April 12, 2013
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Three Muslims, including a gold shop owner from central Myanmar, have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for actions that sparked religious riots last month, state media reported today.

State prosecutors alleged that Myint Myint Aye, 24, and Tun Tun Oo, 23, owners of a jewelry shop in Meikhtila, and one of their employees attacked a Buddhist customer over a broken gold hairpin on the morning of March 20.

The customer sustained bruises on his face, but angry Buddhists destroyed the gold shop and a Buddhist monk was subsequently killed by a group of Muslims that afternoon, which was followed by three days of anti-Muslim violence, leaving at least 43 people dead and nearly 13,000 people homeless, state media reported.

The three men were convicted of causing grievous bodily harm and theft with intent to cause death or injury, the state-run Mirror newspaper said.

Aung Thein, a lawyer from the Myanmar Lawyers Network in Yangon, said that even though the brawl sparked the riots, the punishment is too severe.

Wunna Shwe, co-secretary general of the Islam Council in Yangon, declined to comment on the degree of punishment against the Muslim shop owners, but expressed doubts that the government will fulfill its promise to take effective action against the individuals who burned Muslims alive and destroyed Muslim houses and mosques in Meikhtila.

“There are many video records which proved these crimes. But the question is if all these people will be legally punished as well,” Wunna Shwe said.

The government said it has arrested dozens of people involved in the riots but they have yet to take action against radical monks calling for boycotts of Muslims businesses in the country.

Radical monks -- once at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement and viewed with reverence in the Buddhist-majority nation -- have been linked to the subsequent unrest, which observers say appeared to be well organized.

The unrest in central Myanmar and the southern part of the country has calmed since March 28, when President Thein Sein vowed to use force if necessary against for those behind the religious violence, which he attributed to “political opportunists and religious extremists.”

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