A Burmese court yesterday sentenced a prominent ethnic Rakhine leader to 20 years in jail for treason, a verdict likely to intensify anger amid fighting between the ethnic group and the army.
Security forces tried to calm hundreds of supporters outside the court in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, as Aye Maung was escorted to a waiting police van following the verdict.
Aye Maung, the former chairman of the Arakan National Party — which is renowned for hardline views against the Rohingya Muslim minority — was sentenced for treason and defamation over an allegedly inflammatory speech in January last year, a day before deadly riots.
State-backed media at the time said he railed against the central government for treating ethnic Rakhine as “slaves” and said it was the “right time” for the community to launch an armed struggle.
The following evening, Rakhine protesters briefly seized a government building and police opened fire, killing seven people.
Aye Maung and a fellow detainee — writer Wai Hin Aung, who also gave a speech at the same rally — were detained days later.
“Both Dr Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung were sentenced to 20 years each ... for the charge of high treason and two years each for defamation of the state,” Wai Hin Aung’s defense lawyer Aye Nu Sein said.
A brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017 forced about 740,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh.
Yet the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population, some of whom are accused of aiding soldiers in the campaign against Rohingya, also feels marginalized by the state.
The lawyer said they were discussing whether to appeal.
Supporters of the pair were enraged by the perceived persecution of two prominent Rakhine figures.
“This is not fair. This is oppression and bullying of ethnic Rakhine people,” one woman shouted in front of the court, as the protesters spread to the center of the town.
The military has in recent weeks waged war on the Arakan Army, an armed group claiming to represent the ethnic Rakhine.
At least six people were wounded in fighting as soldiers hunted ethnic Rakhine insurgents in the western town of Mrauk U, residents said yesterday, while the military issued a statement saying a convoy was ambushed entering the historic temple town.
The military said that insurgents attacked a military convoy approaching Mrauk U before retreating into houses in the town.
Myo Oo Khaung Sayataw, a monk in the town, said he had taken six wounded people to hospital on Monday night.
“I saw six military cars, they were shooting everywhere,” he said, adding that a seven-year-old girl with burn wounds was among the casualties.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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