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Seven Charged With Illegal Assembly After US Embassy Protest

Demonstrators, including Ashin Parmoukkha and Win Ko Ko Latt, are pictured at the protest outside the US Embassy on April 28, 2016. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

By San Yamin Aung, The Irrawaddy

RANGOON— The Kamayut Township police have brought charges against seven Burmese nationalists on Tuesday who, in April, protested outside the US Embassy in Rangoon against the American mission’s use of the word “Rohingya.” A trial is scheduled for August 30.

Hundreds of protesters, including Buddhist monks, held a demonstration outside the US embassy on April 28 in Rangoon. They condemned the embassy for using the term “Rohingya” in a statement issued on April 20 after more than 18 people belonging to the Rohingya minority were killed when their boat sank off the coast of Sittwe, Arakan State.

A police officer from the Kamayut police station told The Irrawaddy that they opened the case against the seven protesters under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, accusing those involved of “illegal assembly.” Among the charged are three monks, including Ashin Parmoukkha, formerly a prominent member of the ultranationalist organization best known by its Burmese acronym—Ma Ba Tha. Win Ko Ko Latt of the Myanmar Nationalist Network also faces charges.

Ashin Parmoukkha said that Win Ko Ko Latt originally sought permission to protest in front of the US Embassy, but the police put forward the Bo Sein Hman grounds in Rangoon’s Bahan Township as an alternative protest site. The group instead gathered first in front of Rangoon University, before marching to the nearby US Embassy.

“We are not guilty,” the monk said. “We just protested since the US ambassador used the term ‘Rohingya.’ The ones who use that term are cunning. And I didn’t participate in the march. I just gave a speech there.”

The protesters reject the term Rohingya—with which the Muslim minority self-identifies—and instead refer to the group as “Bengali,” implying that they are migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law does not recognize the Rohingya among the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, contributing to widespread statelessness for the community.