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The lawyer of an Arakanese student activist, who is standing trial in Rangoon for sedition and inciting religious hatred, has slammed authorities for prosecuting his client without sufficient evidence.
Ye Min Oo, who is a self-proclaimed Arakanese nationalist and senior member of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), has been slapped with the two charges across three Rangoon courts, which could see him spend up to a total of six years in jail if convicted.
However, the case has been shrouded in controversy since the start and his lawyer claims it is unclear why he has even been charged.
“The prosecutor himself didn’t seem to know much about the case but only filed it because he was told to do so – and the witnesses are members of the police force and government administration but no member of the public allegedly instigated by him,” said his lawyer Kyaw Ho.
His family has speculated that the charges are related to his role in protesting religious unrest in western Burma’s Arakan state, where Buddhists clashed with Rohingya Muslims last year. He has also been linked to the controversial “969” movement in Burma, which promotes a radical form of Buddhist nationalism and has been accused of fuelling a recent wave of anti-Muslim violence.
But Ye Min Oo has previously dismissed the case as a witch-hunt intended to “oppress people who want democracy and love their race” and maintains there is no evidence that he has instigated violence.
“The prosecutor only said Ye Min Oo instigated religious hatred but was unable to clarify what he said or which religion he was instigating hatred against,” said Kyaw Ho. “Based on this, there is no sufficient ground for the case.”
Ye Min Oo was initially charged with sedition under section 505(b) of Burma’s draconian penal code in Rangoon’s Bahan and Kyauktada township courts in early April. Later that month he was charged with inciting religious unrest under section 153 in Rangoon’s Thaketa township.
Both charges carry a maximum two-year jail sentence, but as Burmese law allows civilians to be charged for the same crime in several courts, he could spend up to six years in jail.
Anti-Muslim violence has been on the rise in Burma since last year and recently spread through its central heartlands, claiming over 40 lives and displacing 13,000 people. But the government has come under fire for its slow response to the violence and failing to prosecute key instigators, including the head of the “969” movement, Ashin Wirathu, for practicing hate-speech.
The vast majority of people jailed have been Muslims, including three gold shop-owners in Meikhtila, who allegedly sparked the latest wave of unrest after a dispute with a Buddhist woman. On Monday, six Muslims were formally charged with the murder of a monk on the first day of the violence.
But the families of three Buddhists youths charged with sedition for attempting to instigate riots in Mandalay city last week have accused authorities of using them as “scapegoats”.
“I can absolutely guarantee that the kids are not riot instigators,” a family member of one of the accused told DVB. “We assume they were only joining other people shouting and being rowdy. As they were drunk, they should just be charged with drunken misbehavour.”
-Additional reporting by Naw Noreen