The Burma Human Rights Network and 19 other Organizations have issued a letter to Burma’s State Chancellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, calling on the Burmese Government to ensure the rights of Burmese Muslims following a spat of anti-Muslim incidents inside the country. The incidents, many of them broadly documented by rights groups and local and foreign media, involved efforts by ultra nationalist and authorities to limit the ability of Muslims to freely practice their religion inside of the country. The undersigned includes a variety of ethnic and religious groups in and outside of Burma concerned about the rise of religious nationalism in the country.
The Organizations are:
Arakan Rohingya National Organisation ARNO, Burma Campaign UK,Burma Human Rights Network BHRN, Burma Task Force, Burmese Muslim Association BM, 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.
The letter to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi follows a series of incidents including the efforts against Muslims living in Tharkayta Township in Rangoon (Yangon), where two Islamic schools that were used for prayers were shut down by authorities after protests by ultra-nationalist mobs. Following the closing of the schools, Muslims in the township had to pray in the streets during the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. On 2 June authorities charged three men for prayers held outside where a crowd of 50 to 100 people had gathered for Ramadan prayers. Similar incidents occurred in Meikhtila and East Yangon’s Dagon.
In a broader view, these events are part of a greater pattern of limiting non-Buddhists from freely practicing their religion in the country without significant obstacles. While the population of Burma has grown, the number of Mosques in the country has decreased due to laws banning the building of new mosques and renovation of old mosques. Similarly, Muslims face significant restrictions on the use of schools for religious purposes. These restrictions do not apply to Buddhists who take part in religious activities in their schools freely.
As the religious schools in Tharkayta Township were prohibited from holding prayers, many Muslims took to the streets in the rain to hold prayer as they felt they had greater religious obligation to do so during Ramadan. The prayers were subsequently stopped by authorities as unauthorized pubic religious organizing they claimed “threatened stability and rule of law.” While three men were charged as a result, legal experts in Burma have argued that the laws used in these cases are negated by Article 24 (b) which states that authorities must protect the right to freedom of religion for residents.
The undersigned have called upon the Burmese Government to immediately address these incidents as systemic and to respond appropriately to the organizing of ultra-nationalists who have successfully pressured authorities to limit and block the religious freedoms of minorities inside the country. As Myanmar is transitioning into a more democratic society, it is imperative that all citizens have unhindered access to universal human rights and that no group may dominate or oppress another formally or informally.
Letter to H.E Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
3rd Aug 2017
We, the undersigned, strongly urge the Myanmar government to ensure that Muslims living in Burma are afforded their fundamental human rights to practice their religion freely. The Burma government must not appease the ultra-nationalists who are utilizing hate speech, intimidation, and violence to promote fear in Muslim communities across the country, and divide and distract the people. It is extremely alarming to see how anti-Muslim sentiment has spread beyond Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been harshly persecuted and isolated, even to major cities like Yangon. Our most serious concerns relate to Muslims living in Tharkayta Township in Rangoon (Yangon), as
Our most serious concerns relate to Muslims living in Tharkayta Township in Rangoon (Yangon), as well as Dagon, East Yangon, Thiri Mingalar block in Meikhtila, and several other locations where anti- Muslim incidents have been under reported. Recently in Tharkayta Township, authorities shut down two Islamic schools after protests by ultra-nationalist mobs. Following the closing of the schools, Muslims in the township had to nowhere to conduct prayers, and so they started to pray in the streets during the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.
On June 2, 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 according to Channel News Asia, 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.
Authorities have demanded the two men who led the outdoor prayers to sign an undertaking saying they will not host prayers outside the schools again in the future. However, authorities have taken legal action against Ko Moe Zaw, another man involved in organizing the prayers, alleging that his actions breached section 21 of the penal code which states that: “Any residence of Ward and Village organising any entertainment party, competition, show or traditional festivals required authorities approval and must abide by restrictions.”.. Per section 26 of the same law, if found guilty of violations article 21, he could face a sentence of up to six months in prison, a 50,000 Kyat fine, or both. However, according to a legal expert in the country whose name is being withheld for his safety, article 24 (b) states that authorities must protect the right to freedom of religion for residences, arguing that section 21 is not valid in this case as the accused are protected by article 24(b).
The arrests of the three men for praying on the street in Yangon was the culmination of a series of anti- Muslim incidents that occurred in the area in late April and early May. On April 21, a group of Buddhist ultra-nationalists disrupted a Muslim prayer session at an Islamic school in Tharkayta Township, complaining that the schools were holding prayers in defiance from township orders not to do so. The following week, on April 28, some of the same groups protested again in front of two Islamic schools in the area, and successfully pressured police to shutter the schools. Those two schools remain shut today, depriving hundreds of Muslim children of their right to education.
On May 29, authorities ordered Muslim leaders from Tharkayta township to come to a meeting, and the officials present informed those assembled that private residences could not be used for religious purposes as they had been previously.
On June, 5 Myanmar Muslim religious organizations sent a letter to the Ministry off Religious Affairs, raising serious concerns about their difficulties to find another place for the Muslim community to conduct religious worship in Tharkayta and Dagon South Townships. A Sunni Jumma Mosque and Islamic school located at Lay Dauk Kan Block, that has operated for 75 years in Dagon East in Yangon for 75 years, now has also been blocked for religious use following complaints to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. 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. Complainants then informed local officials of this fact, and local officials reacted by banning the use of these premises because the mosque did not have permission from Ministry of Religious Affairs.
At this time, there are approximately 1200 Muslim households living Thiri Mingalar ward in Mekhtila city, comprising a total of about 4000 persons. However, there are only two mosques in the city and both have been sealed by the authorities. The result it is now impossible for Muslims living in the area to exercise their right to freedom of worship and prayer during Ramadan or other times impossible for the Muslims living there. On May 1, Muslim leaders from the affected community sent a letter to State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi regarding their plight, and requesting her assistance. On June 3, the Muslim leaders sent another, similar letter to the authorities. To date, they have received no response to either letter.
We are disappointed that the Burma government has not permitted the construction of any new mosque in the country since 1962. In fact, because several mosques have been shut down and the government refuses to permit them to re-open, the actual number of mosques in the country is less than in 1962.
These instances are all part of a greater pattern of targeted oppression against Muslims by state and non-state actors in Burma that clearly violate article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We call on friends of Burma in the international community, including aid donors to the Burma government, to pressure the Burmese Government to ensure that all people in the country have the freedom to practice their religion peacefully without fear of organized intimidation or administrative obstruction. In pursuing a more democratic future, we believe that Burma must ensure that all people are represented and all laws are applied equitably, while ensuring equal rights universally.
To the Government of Burma:
Ensure that police and local government forces will not act pre-emptively to satisfy arbitrary or unlawful demands by extremist nationalist groups. Order local authorities to maintain the rule of law rather than appease the ultra-nationalist groups at the expense of respecting the rights of religious minorities.
Reopen all closed mosques and religious schools and allow them operate freely in accordance with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Immediately permit the construction and renovation of non-Buddhist religious buildings, and ensure that future decisions are both impartial and non-discriminatory, regardless the religious faith calling for permission.
Drop the charges against Ko Moe Zaw, and revoke the signed undertakings signed by the other two organizers of the street prayers during Ramadan in Yangon.
Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief to conduct an official visit to Burma, and fully cooperate with him to ensure he has access to all religious communities.
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)
International Campaign for the Rohingya
Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma (JACOB)
Majlis Perundingan Pertubuhan Islam Malaysia (MAPIM)
Malaysian Humanitarian Aid and Relief (MAHAR)
Progressive Voice (Myanmar)
Stefanus Alliance International
Notes for Editors
There are 50,000 Muslims living in Thaketa and the schools in Thaketa Township were used for prayers for decades prior to recent events, but were forced to stop in 2015 after complaints from ultra-Nationalists. Originally the Township was denied permission to build a mosque, but in 1990 local Muslims were granted permission to use the school to host prayers instead. Following the closure of the two schools which were protested by the ultra-nationalists, some of the remaining Islamic schools closed as a precaution temporarily to avoid confrontation. As a result hundreds of student are going without education.
Background on the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) works for human rights, minority rights and religious freedom in Burma. BHRN has played a crucial role advocating for human rights and religious freedom with politicians and world leaders.
Members of The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) are available for comment and interview.
Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
T: +44(0) 740 345 2378
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