A court in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady region sentenced 21 Rohingya Muslims from northern Rakhine state to two years in jail for trying to travel to Yangon and beyond without approved travel documents under a controversial immigration law. Eight youths arrested with them were sent to a juvenile detention center.
The 29, along with a four-year-old child, were detained on Sept. 26 as they headed to the commercial city Yangon to find jobs or to leave the country and look for work abroad, local officials said at the time.
They had travelled by boat from near the Rakhine capital Sittwe and were intercepted by police in the Ayeyarwady region’s Ngapudaw township, where a court handed down the jail sentences Friday under Myanmar’s 1949 Immigration Act.
“They did an assessment and said nine of them are underage. The other 21 Rohingya have been charged with 1949 Immigration Act,” citizenship rights activist Kyaw Nay Min told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They (the adults) got two-year prison sentences and were sent to Pathein prison. The underage Rohingya will be sent to a juvenile detention center,” he said, adding that a decision has yet to be made about the four-year-old child.
Kyaw Nay Min said the court announced the final verdict after a single hearing and the detainees didn’t have legal representation and had to defend themselves during the trial.
”They were accused of traveling outside their designated territory. They were arrested immediately and sent to the court right away. They have been sentenced after a single court hearing. It is shocking to see how the country’s judicial system works so unfairly,” he told RFA.
Under the 1949 Immigration Act, every resident of Myanmar is required to have an official ID and those who cannot show one face a maximum two-year prison term.
The government says the Rohingya, an ethnicity not officially recognized in Myanmar, must undergo a verification process under a 1982 Citizenship Law. Not allowed a National Registration Card (NRC), the Rohingya have only a National Verification Card (NVC) and face severe travel restrictions.
At the time the 30 young Rohingya were detained last month, they told police that they paid between 500,000 and 700,000 kyats (U.S. $ 3,900-U.S. $5,460) to traffickers who arranged their transportation to Yangon where some of them intended to stay for work and others planned to sail to Malaysia.
RFA repeatedly attempted to contact Minister of Immigration and Human Resources Soe Win, but he wasn’t available.
Authorities in Rakhine state restrict the movement of the stateless Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied citizenship and access to basic rights and services. Those who need to travel must submit requests, even for emergencies.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.