An Indonesian court sentenced 14 Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar to nine months in jail for their role in a deadly brawl at a detention center that left eight Buddhist fishermen from their country dead, prosecutors and lawyers said yesterday.
The melee occurred eight months ago in North Sumatra Province, where more than 100 ethnic Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers — most of whom were intercepted off Indonesia’s coast after fleeing Myanmar in rickety boats — and 11 fishermen accused of illegal fishing were being housed together.
Eight fishermen were killed and 15 Rohingya were injured in the fight.
The three-judge panel at the Medan District Court on Wednesday found Sokhat Ali and 13 other men guilty of collective assault resulting in the loss of lives.
The sentence was lighter than the two-year imprisonment sought by prosecutors, who planned to appeal.
Police and the detention center chief said that the clash began after a Rohingya Muslim cleric and a fisherman got into a heated debate about sectarian violence that had erupted a few weeks earlier in central Myanmar.
However, prosecutors told the court that the Rohingya were angered when a female asylum seeker was sexually harassed by the fishermen.
Lawyers for the 14 Rohingya said they were also considering filing an appeal.
“They had not planned the violence,” lawyer Mahmud Irsyad Lubis said. “It happened in an instant.”
The Rohingya, who have been jailed since April, are expected to be freed from prison next month.
In July, the same court acquitted three Rohingya teenagers due to a lack of evidence of involvement in the violence.
Boatloads of Rohingya have been arriving on Indonesia’s shores following a wave of religious violence in Myanmar, where they are considered illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Hundreds have been killed and more than 100,000 left homeless in clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The tensions have tested Myanmar’s reformist government as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalization after nearly 50 years of harsh military rule.