Burma jails more than 20 Buddhists over religious violence


Burma has sentenced more than 20 Buddhists to prison for their roles in religious riots in March, including a deadly attack on a Muslim boarding school, lawyers and police said Friday.

The convictions follow earlier concerns among rights groups that Muslims were bearing the brunt of the legal crackdown on suspects involved in the unrest, which shook the central town of Meikhtila.

The Buddhists were sentenced on Wednesday and Thursday on charges including murder, assault, theft, arson and inciting unrest, said a police official who did not want to be named.

According to state media, which did not specify the suspects’ religion, the sentences ranged from two years for minor offences such as theft to 10 years for murder, with some defendants handed several terms to be served separately.

Some of the charges related to the deaths of students at an Islamic school on the outskirts of Meikhtila, according to Ba San, a lawyer who was at the court.

“We have to say that both Buddhists and Muslims have been sentenced if found guilty,” he told AFP.

More than a dozen Muslims have been convicted in relation to the violence, with a number receiving life imprisonment for murder.

In May, seven Muslims were sentenced to between two and 28 years for their parts in the killing of a Buddhist monk during the unrest, which was apparently triggered by a quarrel in a Muslim-owned gold shop.

Before the latest convictions, only two Buddhists were known to have been sentenced for serious offences during the riots, which drove thousands of Muslims from their homes.

Officially 44 people were killed in the two days of bloodshed in Meikhtila, although some fear the toll was much higher.

According to eyewitnesses interviewed by the rights group Physicians for Human Rights, a Buddhist mob hunted down and killed some 20 students and four teachers at the Islamic school.

Witnesses recounted seeing one pupil being decapitated and several being burned alive, according to a May report by the US-based group.

Attacks against Muslims – who make up an estimated four percent of Burma’s population – have exposed deep fractures in the Buddhist-majority nation and cast a shadow over its emergence from army rule.

Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Arakan state last year left about 200 people dead, mostly Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship by the Burmese government.
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