Myanmar mosque ransacked by armed mob and youth conference banned
On 23rd June, a mosque in Bago Province, Rakine State was attacked by over 200 Buddhist extremists. A disagreement over the building of a Muslim school in the area quickly escalated into religious violence, leaving the mosque ransacked and other religious sites badly damaged. One man was badly injured by the armed mob and was later admitted to hospital.
Thuyethamain village is located in central Myanmar where many members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim community reside. The minority Rohingya community of approximately 1.3 million people are denied citizenship in Myanmar, and questions continue to be asked of the authorities' ability to protect them from religious persecution. This recent violent outbreak comes at a time when recorded attacks against Rohingya are increasing, and there is a lack of proper recognition of these by the state. In a recent visit on 4th July, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar drew attention to institutionalised discrimination against religious minorities and strongly criticised the lack of government action on hate speech and acts of violence against minority communities.
A National Ethnic Youth Conference planned for 27 to 30th July was suspended for dubious reasons by the authorities. Although 600 young people from across Myanmar had already gathered and were awaiting the start of the conference, the government of Shan state issued a suspension letter to the organisers of the conference, the Shan Youth Network, stating that the conference might have a negative impact on upcoming nationwide peace talks between the government, the military and armed ethnic groups. According to the Shan Youth Network’s statement, permission was obtained from the authorities prior to the conference and was confirmed on multiple occasions, long in advance of invitations being sent to youth delegates. Further, the conference agenda had been submitted to the authorities and did not include any sensitive topics that might hinder the national peace talks.
Freedom of peaceful assembly is still tightly restricted in Myanmar. Earlier this year on 18th May more than 70 workers from the Myanmar Veneer Plywood factory and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions were arrested while protesting for better working conditions. The allegedly unfair dismissal of over 160 workers prompted workers' and union representatives to demand a meeting with local authorities, but no meeting was offered. Despite warnings from the Ministry of Labour, protesters took to the streets with the aim of marching from Sagaing to the capital, Naypyitaw. The protesters were quickly stopped and detained by authorities. Since the arrests, 20 protesters have been released and 35 more were pardoned on 1st June. However, 15 factory workers still remain detained, prompting calls from international groups for their release. The tension continues as students and factory workers have boycotted the trial.
On 26th July, 40 civil society organisations based on the borders of Myanmar urged the government to restore their citizenship so that they can play a more meaningful role in the nation's transition to democracy. The issue of citizenship continues to plague Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi's democratic government recently proposed the continuation of a junta policy on restricting the freedoms of expression and assembly for non-citizens, including removing their right to protest. The move disenfranchises a large portion of the population, most notably the Rohingya community.