Buddhists Get Prison Terms in Myanmar


YANGON, Myanmar -- More than 20 Buddhists were sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes for a night of rioting, burning and killing in March in central Myanmar.

Previously, the majority of those sentenced in the country’s Buddhist-Muslim violence have been Muslims, even though Muslims have suffered most of the casualties over a year of sporadic outbursts of anger between the two groups.

The sentences issued on Wednesday and Thursday did not erase a sense of unequal justice in Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority nation; earlier in the week, a Muslim man received life in prison for killing one of the 43 people who died during the violence in the town of Meiktila.

The attacks, mostly by Buddhist mobs, have killed about 200 Muslims, and the government’s inability or unwillingness to stop the assaults has marred the nation’s image abroad as it moves toward democracy after nearly five decades of military rule.

On Wednesday, the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, issued what appeared to be his strongest criticism yet of the country’s handling of the growing religious tensions, saying the government’s promises to protect lives and punish wrongdoers had to be “translated into concrete action.”

While Myanmar’s leaders have moved troops into Muslim areas after the attacks to stem the bloodletting, some leaders have expressed support for a growing radical Buddhist movement, known as 969, whose hate-filled sermons have been blamed for helping to inspire the violence.

The toughest of the latest sentences stemmed from the deadliest episode of the Meiktila riots: a brutal mob attack on an Islamic school that killed 36 people.

The state-run daily newspaper Keymon said eight people - seven Buddhists and one Muslim - were convicted in Meiktila district court for crimes connected to the school massacre.

Tin Hlaing, a local reporter who attended the hearings, said that four of them were convicted of murder and causing other injuries, and were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison.

On Tuesday, one Muslim man received a life sentence and three other Muslims got sentences of at least seven years in prison for their roles in the murder of a 19-year-old university student during the unrest, Tin Hlaing added.

Sectarian violence in Myanmar, formerly Burma, began over a year ago in Rakhine State, in the country’s west, and spread to the central towns of Meiktila and Okkan.

Most of those charged with crimes in the rioting there are Buddhists, said Tin Maung Soe, the Meiktila district chairman.

Asked why Buddhists were given lighter sentences than some Muslims, Khin Win Phyu, the Meiktila district legal officer, said, “The courts passed their verdict according to law, and there is no bias or privilege toward any group.”