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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
“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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