The government compound in Rangoon's Thingangyun Township, seen on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)
RANGOON — Immigration authorities have charged six Muslim residents of Rangoon's Thingangyun Township under the 1982 Citizenship Law for allegedly traveling from other regions without government approval and failing to return their "white cards" last year, according to their defense lawyer.
The six were among 23 residents of Ward-3 in the township who were held at local government offices on Monday after members of the Myanmar Patriotic Monks Union—a hardline Buddhist nationalist activist group—threatened local Muslims and pressured township authorities to scrutinize whether they were officially registered as living in the area.
Nay Phone Latt, who represents the township for the National League for Democracy in the Rangoon Division Parliament, told The Irrawaddy that he was aware of local Muslims, some holding "white cards," who had failed to present adequate citizenship documentation to local authorities. He said that some might have come from Lashio in northern Shan State.
"White cards" are documents denoting "temporary citizenship" that were canceled by former President Thein Sein in February 2015, with bearers obliged to return them to local officials.
According to a report by Voice of America, the Patriotic Monks Union began its campaign against the resident Muslims after a local quarrel between a Buddhist young man and a Muslim young man fatally escalated.
The mother of the Buddhist young man reportedly tried to intervene but was stabbed. She died on August 4 after contracting a lung disease, pneumoconiosis, at the hospital. Police are still searching for the assailant. This incensed the Patriotic Monks Union, who decided on retribution against the local Muslim community at large.
On Tuesday, out of the 23 people held at local government offices—purportedly for their own safety after receiving violent threats from the Patriotic Monks Union—seven were unconditionally released, 10 were fined and six were charged with being in violation of Articles 62 and 63 of Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law, according to the Muslim defense lawyer, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety.
The lawyer told The Irrawaddy, "Everybody knows who is behind the scene. A group is interfering in the government's work."
"The hands of Ma Ba Tha members are behind the curtain," he said, referring to Burma's most prominent Buddhist nationalist association, which is not formally linked to the Patriotic Monks Union.
Articles 62 and 63 of the citizenship law contains provisions against holding "cancelled" documents for "naturalized citizenship"—a category distinct from "temporary citizenship" as formerly denoted by white cards, which is not mentioned in the 1982 law. Penalties include prison sentences of 10-15 years, and fines of up to 50,000 kyats (US$42).
The Irrawaddy visited the offices of the Thingangyun Township administration, but immigration officers and those from other departments would not confirm the charges.
The township police commander, Thet Naing Htun, merely answered, "Everything is fine and we released all of them."
Outside the township court on Monday, around 100 members of the local Muslim community gathered to publicly present a variety of documents purporting to prove the legal residence of those being scrutinized in the township. About 20 police were positioned outside government offices, bearing rifles.
Photographs of the scene were circulated on social media, accompanied by inflammatory statements to the effect that the assembled Muslims were "insulting local authorities" and "disobeying court regulations."