Myanmar soldiers jailed for Rohingya massacre freed from jail

Military were never committed to seeing anyone held accountable for crimes in Rakhine State, says rights researcher
Myanmar soldiers jailed for Rohingya massacre freed from jail

Myanmar soldiers march in formation during a military parade in Naypyidaw on March 27, 2018, to mark the 73rd Armed Forces Day. (Photo by Thet Aung/AFP)

Seven Myanmar soldiers jailed for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine State have been granted early release from prison.

The soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor in April 2018 for their role in the massacre in Inn Dinn village in September 2017.

The Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) announced on Dec. 18, 2017, the discovery of a mass grave near a cemetery in the village in southern Maungdaw, around 50 km north of the state capital city Sittwe. The Tatmadaw at the time exonerated itself of any wrongdoing related to the killings but later opened a probe after the Reuters news agency revealed details of the military’s involvement in the massacre.

Reuters reported on May 27 that the soldiers were freed last November. The report of the early releases was confirmed by two prison officials, two former fellow inmates and one of the involved soldiers.

Fellow inmates told Reuters that while inside Sittwe prison, the seven convicted men received special privileges such as beer and cigarettes.

A Myanmar military spokesman was unable to confirm news about their early release.

The two Reuters reporters who uncovered details about the massacre, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, spent 511 days behind bars for exposing what occurred.

Matthew Smith, co-founder and chief executive at Fortify Rights, said it is unconscionable but not surprising that the soldiers have been released from prison. He said the Tatmadaw is wholly unreformed and responsible for genocide.

“The U.N. Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or create a separate criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the full spectrum of atrocity crimes in Myanmar including crimes in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states,” Smith told ucanews.com.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Tatmadaw has engaged in a massive cover-up of crimes against the Rohingya.

“More than anything, the early release of these seven soldiers reveals Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and Tatmadaw commanders don’t really consider the Rohingya to be human,” Robertson said in a statement on May 27. “[The military] were never committed to seeing anyone held accountable for their crimes in Rakhine State.”

He said the early release of the soldiers shows why the Tatmadaw’s recently created military court for Rakhine State is “a bad joke and just another cog in Myanmar’s cover-up machine.”

Kyaw Min, chairman of the Yangon-based Human Rights and Democracy Party, which fights for Rohingya rights, said the Tatmadaw’s jailing of the seven soldiers was just for show.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that Myanmar has two governments — civilian and military — and through its actions it shows the military still wields enormous powers in the country,” Kyaw Min told ucanews.com.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine State due to a bloody crackdown by the Tatmadaw that started in August 2017 following border post attacks by Rohingya militants.

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A U.N. fact-finding mission found that the Tatmadaw committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against the Rohingya. It said military chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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