Five people have been sent to jail awaiting trial for their involvement in printing a calendar that stated that Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic-religious minority in Myanmar, police said on Wednesday.
A court in Yangon’s Pazundaung Township had fined the men $800 each on Monday for breaking Article 4 of the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law, which bars individuals from publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order. The men, who all live in Yangon, paid the fine and went home.
However on Tuesday morning they were re-arrested and sent to Insein Prison, Pazundaung Township police chief Maj. Khin Maung Lat told Myanmar Now.
They have been charged with Section 505 (b), which says those publishing information that may cause public fear or alarm and may incite people to commit offences “against the State or against the public tranquillity” could be sent to prison, he said.
Under Myanmar’s outgoing government, which came to power in 2011, Section 505 (b) has been frequently used to charge political dissidents.
“I received an order from my superiors to arrest these men under a separate charge,” said Khin Maung Latt, adding that the men would appear in court on Dec. 1.
“I think the additional charge has been made to deter anyone committing a similar offence in the future… This is a case related to protecting the race and religion,” he added.
Police said they were also searching for a Muslim man called Aung Khin from Shwepyithar Township who assigned the printing of the calendar. He remains at large.
The 2016 calendar mentions the word Rohingya and contains a statement that there used to be a “Rohingya radio programme” in the 1950s Burma of Prime Minister U Nu. It said U Nu himself had publicly used the word Rohingya.
Myanmar’s government vehemently denies the approximately one million-strong Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as Rohingya.
The government insists they are called “Bengalis” and are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
“BEING IN HELL”
After photos of the controversial calendar spread on Facebook, police raided Kyaw Printing House on 54th Street in Pazundaung and charged Kyaw Kyaw, the owner of the facility and his manager Ye Thu Aung, and three Muslim men who interacted with the publishing house on behalf of Aung Khin.
Aung Khin gave the printing assignment to the three Muslim men who live in Minglar Taungnyunt Township, a Yangon neighbourhood with a large population of Muslims and Hindus, according to a relative of one of the men.
The men make a living binding Korans and calendars and contacted Kyaw Printing House for the work, the relative added.
“They did not know anything. They are just book binders,” Hlaing Myint told Myanmar Now, sitting in the living room of his small wooden house in downtown Yangon. He is related to Win Htwe, 29, who is now under detention.
“We are now feeling so miserable it is like being in hell,” he added.
The two other Muslim men are Win Naing or Mohammed and Zaw Min Oo or Haniq. Both also live in Minglar Taungnyunt.
PRESSURE FROM MONKS?
On Sunday, radical Buddhist monks of the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement held a full-day meeting in North Dagon Township’s Magwe Pariyatti Monastery during which they condemned the calendar. In the days before, members of the movement had spread word of the existence of the calendar on social media.
Monk Pamukka told the gathering that Ma Ba Tha members in Panzundaung and Shwepyithar townships should file a legal complaint with police against those who produced it.
Contacted by Myanmar Now on Wednesday, Pamukka said they felt the fine was inadequate and had plans to pressure the authorities if no further action was taken.
He did not say whether they contacted the authorities after Monday’s verdict.