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A Rangoon court has used a printing and publishing law to fine five men $800 each for their involvement in printing a calendar that stated that Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic-religious minority living in Burma.
Pazundaung Township police chief Maj. Khin Maung Lat informed Myanmar Now of the sentence, which was passed on Monday evening, adding that police charged the men on Saturday. A sixth suspect remains at large.
The 2016 calendar mentions the word Rohingya and contains a statement that there used to be a “Rohingya radio channel” in the 1950’s under then-Prime Minister U Nu. It said U Nu himself had publicly used the word Rohingya.
“This is an activity that threatens the law and order of the country,” Khin Maung Lat said in an interview at his office. He added that an investigation was started after police heard about the calendar “on Facebook.”
The men were charged with 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. It stipulates a fine of between $800 and $2,400.
Burma’s government vehemently denies the approximately 1 million-strong Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as Rohingya. The government insists they are called “Bengalis” and are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
It fails to recognise the group – who claim to have lived in the north of Arakan State for generations as Rohingya – and keeps them stateless and disenfranchised. Human rights groups and Western governments have urged Naypyidaw to end persecution of the group, which has fuelled large-scale human trafficking out of Arakan.
Khin Maung Lat said 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, both of whom are Buddhists. He said two other Muslim men were charged, while the identity of the fifth man was unclear.
A Muslim man called Aung Khin from Rangoon’s Shwepyithar Township is being sought for assigning the printing task. Police seized calendars and some printing plates before sealing off the printing house.
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.
On Monday morning, he told Myanmar Now, “Yangon [Rangoon] regional authorities have agreed to take action in the case and therefore the nationalists are not getting involved for now.”
Officer Khin Maung Lat said he had first consulted the Ministry of Information over the calendar but received no reply, until an order came “from above” to take legal action in the case.
Read more DVB coverage on the Rohingya issue