Myanmar authorities on Friday charged three Muslims for conducting Ramadan prayers in front of a shuttered Islamic school in the commercial capital Yangon and warned other Muslims not to hold prayer sessions on public streets, a township official said.
The Islamic school was one of two madrassas that were temporarily closed in the city’s Thaketa township in late April after Buddhist ultranationalists accused Muslim residents of illegally using them for prayer services.
Authorities charged Moe Zaw, who led the prayer session outside one of the schools on Wednesday, along with two others from a group of 50 Muslims who took part in the gathering with failing to obtain official permission to pray in public, said township administrator Aung San Win.
“A leader has been charged under Article 133 of the criminal code under rural law for holding the prayer service without permission,” he said.
Moe Zaw also issued an order for residents of the Muslim-majority area to not participate in public prayer without official permission.
Local authorities issued a statement saying the prayer session threatened “stability and the rule of law,” Agence France-Presse reported.
Haji Tin Shwe, a Muslim resident who participated in the prayer session during the holy month of Ramadan which began last week, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Thaketa’s police chief accused Muslims of intentionally breaking the law.
“I told him that we did not do it intentionally,” he said. “All Muslim religious schools in our township are closed, and it is too far for us to get to a mosque [to pray]. We were praying in the street because we have no other place to do it.”
Buddhist school closed
In a related development, Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture on Thursday ordered the closure of Mya Taung Saung Monastic Education School in the town of Mrauk-U in western Myanmar's Rakhine state after the head Buddhist monk at the school was charged with having connections to an illegal organization, a member of the school's board said.
The monk let the Arakan Army (AA), the predominant ethnic armed group in Rakhine state, hold a soccer match on the school's grounds on April 8 to celebrate the eighth anniversary of the militia's founding.
The AA is at loggerheads with the Myanmar military and has not signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the national government.
When the national army’s Infantry Unit 540 based in Mrauk-U found out about the match, it filed charges against the monk and a man named Khine Min Ni who was also involved in organizing the match, said school board member Aye Win.
The two were picked up and detained at the Mrauk-U police station, she said.
“We received a letter yesterday, saying that we don’t have permission to run the school anymore,” Aye Win told RFA. “Officials from the Ministry of Education, township administrators, and police came to the school and said they will help us if we need something. Students are still studying, and teachers are still teaching at the school.”
The school has about 180 students from the elementary level to the ninth grade and 10 teachers.
About 50 students live at the school, which takes in pupils who cannot attend local public schools.
In another development, police in the capital Naypyidaw arrested a prominent protester who called for the resignation of Aung Ko, the current minister of religious affairs and culture, a police official said.
Kyaw Myo Htut was arrested on Thursday, and his trial was set for the same day at the Auttrathiri township courthouse.
On May 20, more than 700 people who identified themselves as nationalists protested against Aung Ko and demanded his resignation a week after the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), a group of high-ranking monks that serves as Myanmar’s Buddhist authority, banned the ultranationalist monk organization Ma Ba Tha.
After the protest, the Naypyidaw Council Administrative Department instructed regional police to file a case against the protesters, charging them with breaking an agreement not to shout certain slogans during the protest, said Zaw Khin Aung, Naypyidaw region’s chief of police.
Known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, Ma Ba Tha was ordered by Ma Ha Na to disband or face punishment under both Buddhist and secular law. The organization responded by changing its name to the Buddha Dhamma Parahita Foundation.
The decision came after a violent confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims erupted on May 9 in a Yangon neighborhood where Ma Ba Tha monks claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding illegally.
After police determined that no one in the apartments was there illegally, a scuffle between the monks and Muslim residents broke out as the monks left the building. Two people were injured, and police fired warning shots to break up the crowd.
Ma Ba Tha monks later denied allegations that they had provoked the violence.
Reported by Kyaw Thu, Thiri Min Zin, and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.