Rights group calls on Myanmar to free Rohingya activist | Asia Pacific

Rights group calls on Myanmar to free Rohingya activist

Rights group calls on Myanmar to free Rohingya activist

Updated 6 August 2014, 17:20 AEST

A court in Myanmar's Rakhine state has extended the detention of Rohingya human rights activist Kyaw Hla Aung.

The 74-year-old was arrested in Sittwe last year by Myanmar police who accused him of instigating protests against government efforts to register Rohingyas as 'Bengali', and not Myanmar citizens.

The group, Fortify Rights says authorities have repeatedly failed to produce witnesses and argues the case against Kyaw Hla Aung is totally without merit.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Matthew Smith, executive director, Fortify Rights


LAM: Matthew, Kyaw Hla Aung has been jailed for over a year now, but has not been brought to trial - can you tell us a little bit about him?
SMITH: Yeah, of course. He's been a lifelong human rights defender really and for many years he worked in the humanitarian sector. Since the violence started, since serious violence against his Rohingya Muslim community started in June, 2012, he was involved in chairing a Committee that was essentially developing programmes for education for displaced Rohingya youth. And he's been meeting with ambassadors and other people who have visited Rakhine state, who were very concerned about the human rights situation there and this and some of his other activities exposed him to the Myanmar authorities, in a way that we think led to his arrest and detention.
LAM: Indeed, I think Fortify Rights has said that he might have been arrested, because he's education and has international connections?
SMITH: Yeah, that's right. This is one of the poorest communities in Asia, one of the most persecuted as well and there are some Rohingya who do have connections to the otherside world, areas outside of Rakhine state and internationally. And there are are some who have the ability to communicate the plight of Rohingya. 
Kyaw Hla Aung is one of those people. He hasn't done anything wrong, he hasn't violated any laws, he's being persecuted because he's a human rights defender and we're trying to urge the government now to intervene, the Central government to intervene to release him, because much of the problems with this particular case stem from the local authorities.
LAM: Do you think the fact that Kyaw Hla Aung is under detention, inspite of his international connections, that the Myanmar government is thumbing its nose at international opinion?
SMITH: Well, in many areas of the country, we've seen the Myanmar government essentially doing just that. 
There are severe human rights abuses persisting. The government in various parts of the country in fact, the government routinely denies the very existence of Kyaw Hla Aung's ethnicity, so the government routinely claims the Rohingya ethnicity does not exist. 
So yeah, we've certainly seen this level of or this behaviour from the Myanmar government over the last several years.
LAM: Returning to Kyaw Hla Aung himself. What do we know about his physical condition. He's been in detention for over a year after all, that must have had some impact on his health?
SMITH: Absolutely, and we're very concerned about his health, his family is very concerned about his health and his community as well. 
He has suffered from health problems in the past and Rakhine state right now is a very difficult place to be if you suffer from health problems and being in prison in Rakhine state is perhaps even more difficult and so there is a concern. 
He's 74 years-old with health problems, and so this should be reason alone, to do something about his incarceration right now.
LAM: And where to from here Matthew Smith, how do you think you should proceed on this issue?
SMITH: Well, we're concerned, Kyaw Hla Aung is not the only political prisoner in Myanmar and he's certainly not the only political prisoner in Rakhine state.
Since violence started in 2012, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested, upwards of one-thousand Rohingya men and boys. They have released some, but an unknown number of them remain behind bars. So the international community now needs to really get serious about the severe human rights violations that are persisting in Rakhine state and what we're trying to do right now is to impress upon various actors in the international community to pressure, not only Naypyidaw but also the local authorities in Rakhine state, to respect and protect the human rights of the Rohingya community.
LAM: Alright, we'll have to leave it there Matthew. Thanks very much for your time.
SMITH: Appreciate it, thanks so much.

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