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A 15-year-old Buddhist boy told a local court on Wednesday that he was tortured by police after being arrested in central Burma on suspicion of participating in a recent wave of anti-Muslim riots.
The boy is among a group of five Buddhists, including a member from the National League for Democracy, who appeared in court in Pegu division’s Moenyo town on Wednesday. They face charges for unlawful assembly and trespassing during a melee that resulted in the destruction of a mosque and several Muslim homes in late March.
But the juvenile defendant from Thayattabin village denied the charges leveled against him during the hearing and accused the police of torturing him, after he and his friend Hla Soe were arrested in front of the Moenyo fire station on 28 March.
“I was only accompanying a monk when I was apprehended in front of the fire station – the [police] beat me senseless for three days – they made kneel on pebbles while handcuffed and kicked me,” said the 15-year-old suspect, adding that he sustained a bloody nose and a bruised face while incarcerated.
“They accused me of ransacking Kalar houses, but I denied that because I didn’t do it.”
Kalar is a pejorative term commonly used in Burma to describe individuals of South Asian decent.
According to a Moenyo resident present at the hearing, neither the juvenile suspect nor Hla Soe could afford to pay legal counsel to represent them at the proceedings.
“There were conflicting police accounts in the hearing such as citing the date of the arrests and no solid evidence presented,” said the resident.
The group is set to appear in court again on 29 May.
On Tuesday, seven Muslim men in Meikhtila were handed prison sentences for the murder of a monk, whose death allegedly sparked a wave of religious riots that spread across the country’s central heartland in late March.
Four of the convicted men are reportedly planning to appeal the case, according to their attorney Thein Than Oo.
Of the four, Myo Htun, who was sentenced to 14 years, and Myo Nyunt, who was handed two years, are appealing on the grounds that none of the witness testimonies presented during the trial confirmed that they were present during the monk’s murder.
While the wave of anti-Muslim rioting has cast a shadow on the quasi-civilian government’s nascent reform period, it has failed to prevent Western governments from dropping most sanctions against Burma.
During a landmark trip to the US earlier this week, President Thein Sein was lauded by US congressmen and government officials for implementing democratic reforms in Burma, but was warned by President Obama that violence targeting the country’s Muslim minority “must stop.
“The displacement of people, the violence directed towards them, needs to stop,” said Obama during a meeting with Thein Sein in the Oval Office on Monday according to a report in the AFP.