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Rohingyas face riot charges for refusing to register as ‘Bengali’

Nine Rohingyas, who were arrested late last month for refusing to register as “Bengalis” at a displacement camp in western Burma, will be prosecuted for instigating riots, according to a state official.

Arakan state’s attorney general Hla Thein told DVB that the group is likely to be hit with multiple charges including rioting and injuring public servants, when they appear at their next court hearing on Sunday.

“They are going to be pressed with charges at the court on 26 May for rioting, hurting a public servant – a Tatmadaw (military) official was hospitalised after sustaining head injuries during the incident, aggravated theft for snatching phones off some public servants trying to report the situation to authorities and criminal intimidation for threatening to harm the public servants,” said Hla Thein.

On 26 April, scuffles broke out between displaced Rohingyas and government officials, who were compiling lists of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) under a programme headed by the Ministry of Immigration and Population.

The skirmish erupted after Rohingya inhabitants at Thetkalpyin and Bawdupha displacement camps near Sittwe refused to be registered as ‘Bengalis’ on the officials’ list.

Security forces reportedly fired shots in an attempt to disperse the crowd who were throwing rocks at officials and repeatedly chanting “Rohingya! Rohingya!” Shortly after the incident, seven individuals from Thetkalpyin and two from Bawdupha were detained by authorities.

After two episodes of ethno-religious rioting last year, more than 140,000 people, a majority of whom are Muslims, are still displaced and living in IDP camps in western Burma’s Arakan state.

In a highly anticipated report published in late April, a government-backed commission charged with investigating the violence recommended upping the number of security forces in the restive state and pinned the rioting on generations of bitterness. The commission also suggested providing the Rohingya minority with voluntary family planning.

The official report also refused to call the stateless Rohingya by name and rather referred to the ethnic minority as “Bengalis”, a term commonly used by government officials that implicitly infers that the group are illegal immigrants.

According to Arakan state’s attorney general, the population study that led to the scuffle was being conducting in accordance with recommendations made by the government-backed commission.

“The programme aims to find out how many legal and illegal inhabitants there are in Bengali refugee camps and their professions, to assist with the rehabilitation [process],” said the state’s attorney general Hla Thein.

“It was not meant to be a census – the Arakan Investigation Commission’s report recommended resettlement and rehabilitation programmes for local populations and for that, we need to study how we can provide them with assistance.”

Following the arrest of the nine Rohingyas, residents in the camps said they have been unable to secure any information about the suspects since they were detained.

“The [detainees] from Thetkalpyin are not allowed to have any visitors – we cannot send them food and have no information on their status. Their relatives in Rangoon were apparently looking for lawyers,” said a resident in Thetkalpyin camp.


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