News   /   More

Rohingya people, kids stand trial for ‘illegal travel’ while fleeing persecution

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Police vehicles transport Rohingya Muslims to a court in Pathein, Ayeyarwady, December 20, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Myanmar authorities have taken to court a group of Rohinyga Muslims, including children, on charges of illegally travelling without proper documents after they tried to flee persecution. 

“They said they ran away because conditions are difficult over there,” said defense lawyer Thazin Myint Myat Win, referring to the Rakhine State, where most members of Myanmar’s Rohingya community live.

A group of 93 people, including 23 children, were brought to a court in the delta town of Pathein on Friday.

They were arrested on a beach in the Irrawaddy river delta region, in late November, as they were fleeing the remote western Rakhine State.

Authorities accused them of not having the necessary documents for traveling. If convicted they face up to two years in prison.

“They said they ran away because conditions are difficult over there,” said defense lawyer Thazin Myint Myat Win.

A Rohingya Muslim looks out from inside a police vehicle, after he and others attended a court hearing in  Myanmar, December 20, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Girls and boys were lined up in the court to listen to the testimony. Some of them, who were scared and crying during the testimony, were threatened by the judge, who was speaking to them through a translator.

“You cannot make a noise in the court during the hearing. If so, you will lose your rights,” Reuters quoted judge Khin Myat Myat Tun as saying.

Around 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar military in 2017 which UN investigators have already described as genocide.

Some 600,000 Rohingya, however, are still living in Rakhine under circumstances described by the United Nations as deplorable.

For years, the persecuted have risked their lives to flee Rakhine on boats bound for Malaysia, Indonesia or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar has arrested several groups of Rohingya Muslims since the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, attended a three-day hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague and defended her country's atrocities against the Muslim community.

During her testimony, Suu Kyi claimed that while disproportionate military force may have been used and civilians killed, the acts did not constitute genocide.

The Nobel Peace laureate claimed that the military's actions were in fact a "clearance operation" in response to militant attacks against police stations in the State of Rakhine.

In her closing argument at the UN court, Suu Kyi implicitly threatened that accusing her government of genocide would risk reigniting “an internal armed conflict in northern Rakhine."

"Steps that generate suspicions, sow doubts or create resentments between communities who have just begun to build the fragile foundation of trust could undermine reconciliation,” she said.

She claimed that her government “actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrong doing.”

Last year, Myanmar's military announced that seven soldiers involved in a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din in September 2017 had been sentenced to "10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area".

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the second day of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

They were the only security personnel the military has said it has punished over the 2017 operation. They were granted early release after less than a year in the prison.

One of the soldiers confirmed to Reuters that he had been released but declined to comment further, saying: "We were told to shut up."

Analysts say the final ruling on genocide may be years away.

A United Nations fact-finding mission has previously found that “the gravest crimes under international law” have been committed in Myanmar and called for genocide trials.  

The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently approved a long-awaited full investigation into the crimes against the Rohingya minority.

Soldiers and Buddhist mobs razed hundreds of villages in the remote western Rakhine State, torturing, killing, and raping the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya have inhabited Rakhine State for centuries, but the state denies them citizenship.

Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku