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Buddhist Authorities Ban Myanmar’s Ultranationalist Monk Organization Ma Ba Tha Group

Ma Ba Tha monks last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence

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Supporters and monks belonging to the hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha rally outside the US embassy in Yangon, April 28, 2016. RFA
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US, May 26, 2017: A government-appointed body that regulates Myanmar’s Buddhist clergy has banned an ultranationalist monk organization known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, according to media reports, ordering the group to disband or face punishment under both Buddhist and secular law.

The Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), a group of high-ranking monks that serves as Myanmar’s Buddhist authority, informed government ministries Tuesday that it had ordered the hardline group Ma Ba Tha to end its activities, according to a document obtained by Agence France-Presse.

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“People, either as individuals or as a group, cannot take any actions under the name of Ma Ba Tha,” the Sangha said in its statement, which also directed Ma Ba Tha to take down its posters and signboards around the country by July 15.

According to a report by Frontier Myanmar, the Sangha’s statement also warned that any breach of its edict would lead to punishment under Buddhist law and be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs for “immediate” prosecution.

Ma Ba Tha representatives agreed to “obey [those decisions] exactly and inform other monks” in the group, Frontier said, citing the statement.

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Thawparka, a leading member of the Ma Ba Tha Steering Committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his organization is still determining how to respond to the order.

“We have to review the Ma Ha Na decision and discuss our future plans,” he said.

“We will let the country know what we decide.”

Thawparka added that the Ma Ba Tha’s fourth anniversary conference scheduled for May 27-28 had been canceled.

AFP cited a statement from the group which said that a meeting to discuss the Sangha’s decision would be held in its stead.

Myanmar has seen frequent outbreaks of religious violence in recent years amid tensions stoked by hardline groups such as Ma Ba Tha.

In one of the latest incidents, a violent confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims broke out on May 9 in a Yangon neighborhood where Ma Ba Tha monks had claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding illegally.

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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 last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence.

The Sangha’s decision to shut down Ma Ba Tha came several weeks after it banned Wirathu—a prominent monk in the ultranationalist organization—from delivering sermons for one year because his use of hate speech against religions other than Buddhism was seen as causing communal strife and hindering efforts to uphold the rule of law.

The firebrand monk has since made several appearances in front of crowds with his mouth taped shut to protest his silencing by authorities, and recently made a controversial visit to Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which is home to the Muslim Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority views the Rohingya, a stateless group of 1.1 million, as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and government policy has denied them citizenship and access to other basic rights for decades.

Army refutes report

Reports of the Sangha’s ban came as Myanmar’s army on Tuesday cleared itself of allegations that soldiers may have carried out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine, despite a damning report released by United Nations investigators in February.

The army, or Tatmadaw, dismissed claims by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) that troops “very likely” committed mass killings and widespread rapes during a crackdown in Rakhine late last year based on its own investigation, the official Global New Light of Myanmar reported, citing the Tatmadaw’s “True News information team.”

The Tatmadaw said it carried out an investigation from Feb. 10 to March 4, interviewing 2,875 villagers from 29 villages in Rakhine regarding the accusations that “security forces performing area clearance operations committed terrorist attacks.”

“Out of 18 accusations included in OHCHR’s report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements,” the report said.

The investigation determined that one motor bike was “driven without the knowledge of its owner” by a soldier who was later found guilty, sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay the owner 530,000 kyats (U.S. $387) in compensation.

A village chief and village residents who failed to extinguish a fire at a hostel for school teachers “were whipped several times,” while two others were sent to jail, the report added.

The Tatmadaw’s findings differ significantly from those of the OHCHR, which said security forces may have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing amid the crackdown in north Rakhine aimed at capturing or killing insurgents who had attacked police border posts.

The OHCHR had based its information on interviews with hundreds of the more than 70,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh during the operation.

Myanmar’s civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has also denied allegations of rights abuses against the Rohingya and refused to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission into Rakhine to investigate. (RFA)

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Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladesh Camps

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies.

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Rohingya, Violence
Rohingya refugees carry a hume pipe in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

The failed attempt to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar starting this month has drawn attention to alleged violence and intimidation by security forces against members of the Muslim minority living in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps.

Bangladesh has boosted its international reputation by hosting more than 730,000 Rohingya who fled a vicious campaign by Myanmar’s military last year that U.N. investigators have labelled genocide – an accusation Myanmar has consistently denied.

But Bangladesh appears keen to demonstrate that Rohingya refugees will not be welcome there indefinitely. The planned repatriations sparked fear and chaos last week as Rohingya went into hiding – and in a handful of reported cases attempted suicide – to avoid being sent back.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Meanwhile, allegations of sporadic beatings, looting and intimidation by Bangladeshi soldiers, police and camp officials have underscored the bleak conditions faced by Rohingya in their host country, where most are denied official refugee status and face restrictions on freedom of movement.

The repatriation of some 2,000 refugees was scheduled to begin last Thursday, but Bangladesh has now put the plans on hold until next year after failing to find any Rohingya willing to go back.

Rohingya in the camps have told VOA that soldiers were stationed near the homes of those who were told they would be sent back last week, fueling fears of forced repatriation and adding to widespread distress in communities already suffering extreme trauma after last year’s violence.

One Rohingya man told VOA anonymously that block leaders in the camps were also “announcing with loudspeakers… that it’s essential for everyone to carry ID with them whenever and wherever they go if they leave their homes.”

Late last month, security forces looted property from Rohingya shopkeepers at the Balukhali camp, said John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organization Fortify Rights.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

“Right now the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” he said.

In another case earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that security forces rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and slapped and hit some of them while telling them to instruct other refugees to cooperate with a new U.N.-backed project to provide them with “smart cards.”

Many Rohingya oppose the identity cards because they fear the information on them will be shared with the Myanmar government.

Bangladesh’s refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, told VOA he was unaware of the allegations of violence but would follow up. “Generally, it is not acceptable that someone would apply force on or beat someone to do or not to do something,” he said.

Quinley called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to “do everything in their power to make sure that the Bangladeshi authorities are respecting human rights.”

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency has notified the authorities of a “small number” of reports of violence related to the smart card project. The agency has “been following up with them to ascertain the circumstances of what happened,” she told VOA.

Officials have responded that the incidents were “not linked” to the smart card project, she said.

She added, “The new ID card will enable refugees to be better protected and will streamline access to assistance and services.”

Mohammed Sheikh Anwar, a Rohingya activist, told VOA the Bangladeshi government “needs to keep the lower-level authorities in check. There should be an accountability measure.”

“Committing violence against genocide survivors to make them agree to the authorities’ terms is not the solution,” he added.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence
A Rohingya refugee woman draws water from a hand pump at a temporary shelter in New Delhi, India.

Last week a Rohingya man named Ata Ullah said he was beaten at the office of an official at the Chakmarkul camp, the Guardian reported, after he failed to provide the official with a list of refugees.

Ata Ullah said in a video circulated on social media that when he couldn’t provide the official with a list he “was beaten with a large stick… they stepped on my neck, I could not stand it.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Government Build a New Rohingya Camp

Human Rights Watch warned in a report in August that the Bangladeshi government was restricting access to basic services by resisting attempts by aid agencies and Rohingya refugees to “create any structures, infrastructure, or policies that suggest permanency.”

As a result, the report said, “refugee children do not go to school, but rather to ‘temporary learning centers,’ where ‘facilitators,’ not ‘teachers,’ preside over the classrooms. The learning centers are inadequate, only providing about two hours of instruction a day,” the report said. (VOA)