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    25 Buddhists get up to 15 years for roles in deadly Myanmar riot; 1 Muslim convicted gets life

    People look on as smoke rises over a Meikhtila neighborhood on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

    July 11, 2013
    YANGON, Myanmar — Twenty-five Buddhists were
    sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes during a
    night of rioting, burning and killing in central Myanmar, following weeks in
    which it seemed only Muslims were being punished for sectarian violence aimed
    primarily at members of their own religion.
    But the sentences issued Wednesday and Thursday
    did not erase a sense of unequal justice: A day earlier, a Muslim received a
    life sentence for murdering one of the 43 people killed March 20 and 21 in the
    central Myanmar town of Meikhtila.
    A wave of violence over the past year in this
    predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian country has left more than 250 people
    dead and 140,000 others fleeing their homes, most of them Muslim. The attacks,
    and the government’s inability to stop them, have marred the Southeast Asian
    country’s image abroad as it moves toward democracy and greater freedom
    following nearly five decades of military rule.
    Most of the sentences were handed down
    Wednesday, and the toughest stemmed from the deadliest incident of the
    Meikhtila riots: a brutal mob attack on an Islamic school, its students and
    teachers that killed 36 people.
    Buddhist mobs torched Mingalar Zayone Islamic
    Boarding School, Muslim businesses and all but one of the city’s 13 mosques
    following a dispute between a Muslim and a Buddhist at a gold shop and the
    burning death of a Buddhist monk by four Muslim men. While security forces
    stood by, a mob armed with machetes, metal pipes, chains and stones killed 32 teenage
    students and four teachers. Video clips online show mobs clubbing students to
    death and cheering as flames leap from corpses.
    The state-run Keymon daily said eight people —
    seven Buddhists and one Muslim — were convicted Wednesday in Meikhtila district
    court for crimes connected to the school massacre.
    Tin Hlaing, a local reporter present during the
    hearings, told The Associated Press that four of the eight were found guilty of
    murder and causing other injuries, getting between 10 and 15 years in jail.
    He did not provide details about their roles in
    the slaughter but said the other four convicted were involved in lesser
    offenses. The Keymon daily said the seven Buddhists received sentences of three
    to 15 years, but offered no details about the Muslim’s case.
    Tin Hlaing also said four Muslim men on Tuesday
    received sentences of at least seven years in prison — with one getting a life
    sentence — for their roles in the murder of a 19-year-old university student
    during the unrest.
    The district court also sentenced 10 Buddhist
    men Wednesday to one to nine years for their involvement in the death of a
    Muslim man. A township court sentenced six men and one woman, all Buddhists, to
    two years’ imprisonment each for damaging the gold shop.
    Meikhtila district chairman Tin Maung Soe said
    in a telephone interview that one Buddhist man was sentenced to five years’
    imprisonment Thursday for causing grievous hurt in connection with the killing
    of two Muslim men. He did not provide further details.
    Sectarian violence in Myanmar began in Rakhine
    state just over a year ago in the country’s west, then spread in March to the
    central towns of Meikthila and Okkan.
    There have been many earlier sentencings, in
    Meikhtila and elsewhere, but the majority involved Muslim defendants. Tin Maung
    Soe said most of the 73 people charged with crimes related to the rioting there
    are Buddhists.
    Asked why Buddhists were given lighter
    sentences than some of the Muslims, Meikhtila district legal officer Khin Win
    Phyu said the sentences were handed down “based on the testimonies of the
    witnesses.”
    “The courts passed their verdict according to
    law and there is no bias or privilege toward any group,” she said.
    The state-owned newspaper Myanman Ahlin has
    reported that close to 1,500 people have been arrested on charges related to
    sectarian violence, and 535 of them have been convicted. Most of the cases are
    in Rakhine state, where more than 200 people were killed last year as tens of
    thousands of Rohingya Muslims were driven from their homes. The paper did not
    break down the numbers by religion.
    About 12,000 people were displaced by the
    Meikhtila riots. Tin Maung Soe said about 3,500 Muslims and 850 Buddhists are
    still living in temporary shelters.
    He also said three mosques in the town reopened
    Wednesday as Muslims prepared for the holy month of Ramadan. Authorities
    provided security.
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