Myanmar jails 7 Muslims for up to 28 years for riots

AFP , Tuesday 21 May 2013

A Myanmar court sentences seven Muslims and no Buddhists to prison over gold shop dispute between both sides in town of Meiktila

Myanmar on Tuesday sentenced seven Muslims to prison terms ranging from two to 28 years in connection with religious violence in March that left dozens of people dead, a justice official said.

The defendants, who were spared the death penalty, were accused of the murder of a Buddhist monk in the central town of Meiktila that sparked unrest across the region, mostly targeting Muslims.

The suspects were jailed on charges including murder, incitement to murder, arson and damage to public property, Mandalay region advocate general Ye Aung Myint told AFP by telephone from Meiktila.

Their family members broke down in tears at the court after hearing the verdict, defence lawyer Thein Than Oo told AFP. "Whether they appeal depends on their relatives," he said.

According to the government, at least 44 people were killed and thousands left homeless after the wave of violence, which was apparently triggered by a quarrel in a gold shop.

Three Muslims including the gold shop owner were jailed for 14 years in April for assaulting a Buddhist customer.

So far no Buddhists have been convicted in connection with the unrest in Meiktila, but Ye Aung Myint insisted that both sides were being treated equally.

"We are sentencing people according to the law based on evidence presented at trial. We have no bias at all based on religion," he said.

A total of 87 people have been arrested in the Meiktila area including about 38 Buddhists, he said.

Attacks against Muslims -- who make up an estimated four percent of Myanmar's population -- have exposed deep fractures in the formerly junta-run country and cast a shadow over widely-praised political reforms.

Some monks were involved in the clashes, while others have led a nationalistic campaign calling for a boycott of Muslim-owned shops.

President Thein Sein, who sent the army to restore order, has vowed a tough response against those behind the violence, which he attributed to "political opportunists and religious extremists".

It followed Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the western state of Rakhine last year that left about 200 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya who are denied citizenship by Myanmar. 

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