Rohingya Jailed for 5 Years in Myanmar for Attempt to Reach Malaysia

Special to BenarNews
2021.12.16
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Rohingya Jailed for 5 Years in Myanmar for Attempt to Reach Malaysia A boat carrying 228 Rohingya is shown at sea northwest of Myanmar before being intercepted by the Myanmar Navy, Nov. 29, 2021.
Myanmar military

A Myanmar court sentenced 109 Rohingya to five years in prison at hard labor after they were caught at sea fleeing a camp in neighboring Bangladesh, Myanmar sources said.

Part of a larger group of 228 intercepted by the Myanmar Navy on Nov. 29 while traveling to Malaysia,  the jailed Rohingya were convicted of illegal immigration in a court in Maungdaw township in western Rakhine state.

A separate group of 90 refugees was released with warnings by the court because they were under the age of 18, and 35 children younger than 10 were freed on the day their boat was captured, sources said.

All had escaped from Myanmar following an August 2017 military crackdown that killed thousands of Rohingya Muslims in a campaign that has been described by international rights groups and the United Nations as genocide.

Tin Hlaing Oo, a lawyer defending the group in court, told Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews, that those sentenced, including five Myanmar nationals who had worked as the boat’s crew and two Bangladesh nationals, had been convicted of illegal immigration and given the maximum sentence allowed under Myanmar law.

“They were leaving Bangladesh to enter Malaysia illegally. Many of them had taken refuge in Bangladesh during the incident in 2017,” he said. “Some of them have contacted our legal group, the Thazin Legal Institute, and we will appeal the verdict for them.”

A family member of one of those sentenced told RFA that the Rohingya had hoped to escape to Malaysia because of the “many problems in the refugee camps in Bangladesh,” including violence.

“I am going to Malaysia myself because I can’t live in the refugee camps any longer,” the source said. “Some people who have family members in Malaysia want to join their families there, and some go there to get married. Some take their siblings with them.

“Making the trip isn’t easy,” he said.

The refugee camps in and around Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are home to about 1 million Rohingya including more than 740,000 who fled following the 2017 crackdown.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Muslim village headman in Rakhine state’s Buthidaung township said Muslims still living in Rakhine are subject to travel restrictions. They have become wary of speaking publicly about the conditions there as they are often subject to interrogations after reporting problems to the media.

Jailing Rohingya for trying to find a better life is unfair and inhumane, he said.

“Giving us two-year, three-year, or five-year prison sentences whenever we get arrested in the country isn’t fair. That shouldn’t happen,” he said. “We can’t travel anywhere now in Rakhine state. For example, we can’t go to Maungdaw or to Sittwe, the state capital, if we need to – even to get medical treatment for a health problem.

“We’d have to take a special travel document called Form 4, which isn’t easy to get,” he said.

Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Rohingya Liberation Coalition civil society group, called the situation unacceptable.

“This kind of imprisonment is not fair,” he said.

“According to Article 13(1) of the Immigration Act, the minimum sentence would be six months, and the maximum is five years. But the military is showing that they don’t care about the international community, which is putting pressure on them regarding the Rohingya issue,” he said.

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