Fortify Rights: Charges Against Rohingya Activist “Unfounded”

A Human rights organization has called for the release of a Rohingya activist and politician, Kyaw Hla Aung, 74, who has been detained by authorities for 13 months.

Fortify Rights, based in South East Asia, urged Burma’s government to “immediately and unconditionally” release Kyaw Hla Aung and criticized the detention because the prosecution had “repeatedly failed to produce witnesses’ in the case.

Kyaw Hla Aung was arrested in July for allegedly organizing illegal protests and instigating violence against the police. Fortify Rights said the charges were “unfounded.” The protests, mostly made up of Rohingya Muslims, were sparked by government attempt to register the Rohingya population as ‘Bengali’ in a citizenship survey.

If found guilty, the charges put against Kyaw Hla Aung could lead to a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.

The Fortify Rights statement came as Sittwe’s District Court, in Rakhine State, again extended Kyaw Hla Aung’s detention, denying him bail and setting the next court hearing to August 18.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, claimed the case was a sham. “Rakhine State authorities have kept Kyaw Hla Aung locked up for over a year, demonstrating the urgent need for the central government to intervene to free him. The case against him is completely without merit. His ongoing detention violates his basic human rights and is an affront to the rule of law.”

The Rohingya, an ethnic minority of around one million people, have faced mounting persecution in Burma from Buddhist extremists following deadly unrest in Rakhine State in June 2012 and are not recognized as citizens under the country’s 1982 citizenship law, leaving 800,000 stateless. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that as many as 140,000 Rohingya are now internally displaced, with many forced to live in run-down camps that lack basic services. In February this year, Buddhist mobs attacked international aid group’s offices, including the UN office, forcing them out of Rakhine State until July when the government, under international pressure, guaranteed the safety of aid workers if they returned.

Matthew Smith said that Kyaw Hla Aung was targeted because he was an outspoken campaigner for Rohingya rights. “The arrest and detention of Kyaw Hla Aung is part of a broader campaign of persecution being perpetrated against the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar. The international community must address the flagrant disregard for the rights of the Rohingya population.”

A report by Fortify Rights released in February found the government at fault for serious human rights violations against Rohingya, including arbitrary arrests and torture. A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch said that Burma authorities and ‘Arakanese groups’ had committed “crimes against humanity” and were pursuing “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya.

“The case against Kyaw Hla Aung is only one example of the multitude of abuses against the Rohingya population,” Mr Smith added, “The human rights situation in Rakhine State is appalling and it’s the direct result of policies implemented by the state and central governments.”

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