The Muslim publisher of a calendar that used the word ‘Rohingya’ to refer to the persecuted Islamic ethnic group has been thrown in Yangon’s Insein Prison, alongside four of his associates.
All five face criminal charges of intending to cause “fear or alarm to the public”, the Myanmar Times reported, with the publication, which features quotes from government officials in the 1950s and 1960s advocating interfaith harmony.
The charge carries a potential two-year prison term.
On November 23, they were fined K1 million for offences under the Printing and Publishing Law – and the print shop was raided and sealed off – but members of Buddhist nationalist organization Ma Ba Tha deemed the punishment “not acceptable”.
“It will look like an invitation to illegal action,” senior monk U Parmaukkha told the Times. “I approve of the new charges and await the judgment of the court.”
The calendar quoted prime minister U Nu as describing the Rohingya as their own ethnicity – a claim disputed by the current government and many people throughout Myanmar, who refer to members of the group as ‘Bengalis’, or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
It also features a 1946 speech made by independence leader Aung San who implored Buddhist and Muslim groups to live together peacefully.
Myanmar’s government views the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refers to them as “Bengalis,” although many have lived there for generations. The group was stricken from the country’s list of 135 officially recognized minorities in 1982.
Communal violence between Rohingya and ethnic Buddhists in Rakhine state in 2012 left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless, with the Rohingya bearing the brunt of the violence, according to rights groups.
Some 140,000 Rohingyas were displaced during the 2012 unrest and now live in squalid camps in Rakhine state, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats in recent years.
Last month, the NGO Fortify Rights called on the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into what it called “strong evidence” that the Myanmar government is carrying out genocide against the minority ethnic group, which is protected under the U.N.’s Genocide Convention.
It has tried to prevent Rohingya births through legislation, denied more than one million Rohingyas freedom of movement, and has confined at least 140,000 displaced by communal violence since 2012 to more than 60 internment camps in Rakhine state, Fortify Rights said.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were also unable to vote in this month’s general elections after they were struck off voter lists.
According to local media, the five men were rearrested after the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha complained about the calendar, but monk and prominent group member Parmaukkha told Agence France-Presse that his organization had not placed pressure on police to detain them.
“Regarding the calendar, we cannot accept it at all because we do not have Rohingya in our Myanmar history,” he said.