Authorities in Myanmar have arrested five men and charged them with causing “fear or alarm to the public” after they published a calendar referring to the country’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya as an official ethnic minority, a police chief said Wednesday.
Kyaw Kyaw—the owner of the Kyaw Printing House in the commercial capital Yangon—and four colleagues had been detained over the weekend and paid a fine of 1 million kyats (U.S. $770) each after pleading guilty to publishing materials that could damage national security, under Myanmar’s 2014 Printing and Publishing Law.
However, authorities rearrested them late on Tuesday and threw them in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison, where they await trial on violating Article 505(b) of Burma’s Penal Code, Khin Maung Lat, police chief of the city’s Pazundaung township, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The five men face up to two years in prison if convicted under the clause, which forbids causing, or intending to cause, “fear or alarm to the public” or encouraging offenses against the state. Their trial date is set for Dec. 1.
According to Khin Maung Lat, police are seeking a sixth man from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state—home to the most of the country’s roughly 1.1 million Rohingya—who had allegedly placed an order for the 2016 calendars.
“The one responsible for publishing this calendar is Aung Khin from [Rakhine state capital] Sittwe,” he said.
“We’ve been unable to arrest him yet and he remains on the run.”
The Kyaw Printing House published more than 700 copies of the calendar, which featured the phrase “Rohingya is an ethnic group” in Burmese, English and Arabic, according to local media reports. It also refers to a 1950s era “Rohingya radio channel” and cites a former prime minister as having used the description.
The publisher was shuttered by police after detaining the five men over the weekend, reports said.
Myanmar’s government views the Rohingya 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 Rohingya 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 Rohingya 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 Rohingya 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.
Reported by Bone Myat for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.