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Two Arakanese protestors from western Burma’s Sittwe, who organised a massive rally in March slamming a proposed plan to resettle displaced Rohingya, are set to appear in court on 5 August after being hit with charges for demonstrating without permission.
Rakhine Women’s Network’s Nyo Aye and Kyaw Zaw Oo from the local charity group the Wanlat Foundation were arrested on 7 March after organising the demonstration in the Arakan state capital.
Thousands of Arakanese residents reportedly joined the rally to denounce an alleged plan to build approximately 5,000 homes for displaced Rohingya with funds provided by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency.
The defendants appeared in a preliminary hearing last Friday, where they were hit with charges under the peaceful assembly and peaceful procession law for staging a protest without official permission.
According to article 18 of the law, demonstrators must file for permission five days in advance of the event and applications can be rejected at the authorities’ discretion.
Nyo Aye, who is currently out on bail, insisted that the organisers had asked for permission to hold the protest, but their request was denied by local officials.
After being rejected by the authorities, the organisers decided to go ahead with their plans without the necessary permits.
“The [Rohingya] are not citizens in our country – there is only a small amount of them eligible to apply for citizenship, while the majority are just illegal immigrants,” said Nyo Aye.
“We see that providing them with housing will lead to a lot of problems and so demanded that the authorities only build [makeshift] quarters to protect them from the monsoon.”
The protest organiser went on to suggest that authorities should verify the Rohingya’s citizenship under the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law, which stripped the Muslim minority of their citizenship, before building them houses.
In the past month, three Arakanese residents in Rathedaung, four in Kyauktaw and three in Taunggup have also being prosecuted under the peaceful procession and peaceful assembly law for staging unauthorised protests against the Rohingya resettlement plan.
More than 140,000 people were displaced following two rounds of religious violence in Arakan state last year pitting Arakanese Buddhist against Muslim Rohingya. A majority of the displaced residents are Rohingya Muslims who have been forced to live in dismal camps with little access to food and healthcare.