Dropping charges against Rohingya 'just an eyewash'

By Sorwar Alam

ANKARA (AA) – Myanmar's recent move to drop charges against over 100 Rohingya was "just an eyewash" meant "to cheat the international community," according to a Rohingya advocacy group.

A Myanmar court on April 8 dropped charges against more than 100 Rohingya who were facing criminal charges for "illegal travel" — from one part of the country to another — in the country after fleeing western Rakhine state.

"For Rohingya, who have been living in Myanmar for centuries, traveling inside the country cannot be illegal," said Mohammad Ayyub, president of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization.

He further claimed that detaining these Muslim minorities under the pretext of "traveling without legal documents" is actually an illegal action.

"There is no country in the world that detain its domestic people for traveling from one region to another," Ayyub said, noting that Myanmar authorities in the northern Rakhine state have built numerous military checkpoints to restrict Rohingya villagers traveling from one village to another.

"This is illegal," he said.

A total of 128 Rohingya from Rakhine state were arrested last November after they disembarked from boats near the beach resorts of Chaung Thar and near Shwe Thaung Yan beach in Ayeyarwady Region.

They were charged for traveling without valid identity documents under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act which carries a maximum of two-year sentence or fine or both.

– Myanmar urged to release all 30,000 Rohingya

A township court in Ayeyawaddy region’s capital Pathein announced on April 8 that the cases were closed on the request of the plaintiff, who is the local immigration official, according to judge Khin Myat Myat Tun.

“As the charges against them were dropped, they would be sent back to Rakhine state,” she told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

Ayyub also claimed there were around 30,000 Rohingya Muslims in several prisons across the Rakhine state, along the Bangladesh border under similar charges.

"If the country is sincere and respectful to the law, it should release all Rohingya and allow them to move in the region freely," he added.

Anita Schug, the head of women and children of the European Rohingya Council, termed the release of 128 Rohingya as one kind of a shift from one prison to another.

“The released Rohingya were brought to Rakhine state and are put in the built camps. They were not free to return to their homes,” Schug told Anadolu Agency.

Based on Myanmar´s past dealing with Rohingya, she emphasized on building trust and said: “Myanmar has to create trust first, and the Rohingya people inside are not feeling this trust being built.”

Prize-winning Rohingya rights activist Razia Sultana marks the release of 128 Rohingya as a showing before the world.

“Releasing Rohingya from the court is […] just for showing the international community. Rohingya are citizens of Myanmar. They must have the freedom and free movement. So arresting them is illegal,” she said.

– Rohingya should be allowed to move freely

Another Rohingya rights activist Maung Zarni, however, opined: “Against the looming ICJ [International Court of Justice] deadline of first four-month required reporting to the court by Myanmar, they have just been acquitted as of April 8 and their cases dismissed.”

In a genocide lawsuit filed in November 2019 by the Gambia against Myanmar, the top UN court on Jan. 23, 2020, declared a four-month deadline for the government of Aung San Suu Kyi to take preventive measures and ensure that the Rohingya in the country would not be harmed.

“Everything that Suu Kyi regime does in these months will be done with the intention of influencing the court to the view that Myanmar is complying with its orders,” said Zarni, co-author of “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya”.

“Why then is Myanmar keeping 120,000 Rohingya — with exactly the same residential, ethnic, and legal status — in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps since 2012?” he raised the question while speaking to Anadolu Agency.

Free Rohingya Coalition co-founder Nay San Lwin urged that Rohingya "should be given national identity cards as they had before 1982."

“They [Rohingya] shouldn't be arrested… They should be allowed to move freely wherever they want. Keeping them in an open-air prison and arresting them when they try to flee is a strategy of the ongoing genocide against them,” Lwin told Anadolu Agency.

“As they [Rohingya] are in the cage and have no hope for their future, many thousands are taking risky boat journeys to Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries,” he added.

Such a move is rare in Myanmar, as the courts, in previous similar cases, handed the maximum penalty — two-year imprisonment — to Rohingya detainees for illegal travel outside Rakhine state, home to about 1 million Rohingya Muslims.

The plaintiff Sein Win had also confirmed that Rohingya detainees would be sent back to their villages and camps.

But he refused to disclose the motive of the case closure.

“We act in accordance with the directive of Nay Pyi Taw,” he told Anadolu Agency, referring to the administrative capital of the country.

Anadolu Agency was unable to reach the Labor, Immigration and Population Ministry based in Nay Pyi Taw.

The Rohingya frequently face arrest and prosecution for attempting to travel outside of Rakhine State in hopes of reaching to Malaysia via Thailand.

– Persecuted people

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

As many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes burned down while 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

*Kyaw Ye Lynn from Yangon, Myanmar and Md. Kamruzzaman from Dhaka, Bangladesh contributed to this story