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Myanmar jails Muslims for monk's killing

No Buddhists sentenced after recent riots

<p>A man picks through the remains of his home in Meikhtila, Myanmar (Soe Than Win/AFP)</p>

A man picks through the remains of his home in Meikhtila, Myanmar (Soe Than Win/AFP)

  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • May 21, 2013
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A court in central Myanmar today sentenced seven Muslims to terms ranging from two years to life in prison for the killing of a Buddhist monk during sectarian violence in Meikhtila in March.

Thein Than Oo, a lawyer defending three of the men, said the client who received a life sentence for murder was hit with two additional charges for unlawful assembly and religious disrespect. Among the seven Muslims, one is a minor.

The defendants still have the right to appeal against the sentences, which stem from a three-day period of violence in Meikhtila in which 43 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

The sentences have led to questions about why Muslims are the first to be charged, despite them bearing the brunt of attacks from Buddhist mobs in March. Three Muslims, including a gold shop owner from central Myanmar, have already been handed 14 years in jail on charges related to the violence, while no Buddhists involved in the killings have been sentenced.

Thein Than Oo said however that more than 50 people have been arrested and that their cases would proceed step by step.

The violence was triggered by a brawl between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim gold shop owner. It then quickly spread across the town with more than 800 houses, the vast majority Muslim-owned, razed, and 12,000 people forced into displacement camps.

Subsequent attacks on Muslims then occurred in other towns in Bago division and Oakkan township near Yangon.

President Thein Sein’s government has come under criticism from human rights groups and Muslims over apparent inaction by security forces during the violence. A police video shot in Meikhtila at the end of March showed police standing idle as Buddhist mobs looted Muslim homes and shops and attacked people.

The government says it has arrested dozens of people involved in the riots. However, numbers of radical monks continue to publicly call for a boycott of Muslims businesses in the country.

Aung Zaw Win, the president of the Mandalay Interfaith Group, said that as well as the sentencing of the seven Muslims, action needed to be taken on Buddhists involved in the violence.

“The judicial system must support the justice so that peaceful coexistence among the religions will prevail. Otherwise we can’t pass over the cycle of hatred and injustice in society,” said Aung Zaw Win.

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