As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled Rakhine State to escape the violence, Muslims throughout Myanmar have also been subjected to other forms of oppression, including the creation of ‘Muslim-free zones’.
In a report published by the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN), the independent organisation claimed that since the violence of 2012, the number of ‘Muslim-free zones’ has been on the rise across the country.
“BHRN has documented the existence of at least 21 villages spread across the country where locals, with permission from the authorities have erected signboards warning Muslims not to enter (the Muslim-free zones),” said its founder and executive director Kyaw Win when presenting BHRN’s report, here, recently.
Prior to 2012, there had been a number of towns in Myanmar that had placed official restrictions on Muslims, namely in Rakhine State and Kayin State, but the number has grown throughout the country in response to narratives which portray the community as a threat.
The violence in 2012, according to the report, has triggered an intensified effort among Buddhist nationalists to determine who do and do not belong in Burma (Myanmar).
“The banishing of Muslims from Buddhist villages appears to be motivated by a perception that the presence of Muslims, both within the country as a whole and in the local settings, is diluting the strength of Buddhism and therefore is threatening,” it said.
In the report, BHRN provided photos of the Muslim-free zones such as at Oak Tadar Block Yatsauk township in Shan State with signboards erected, warning Muslims not to stay overnight, buy or rent properties and marry the locals.
The report also shows photos of signboards with similar warnings and restrictions on Muslims, among them in Botaesu village, East Yaytarshae township in Pegu, Kyike Htaw Waterfall Gates in Karen State, and Shwe Nyaung township and Taunggyi township in Shan State.
Signboards with anti-Muslim slogans have also appeared throughout Myanmar, warning, “not to feed the Tiger and not to give any space to Kalar (Muslims). If you try to feed the Tiger, it will eat you.”
According to the BHRN, grassroots campaign in Myanmar to keep Buddhist and Muslim communities apart has grown in strength while the government failed to act.
The report drew on more than 350 interviews conducted by the BHRN over an eight-month period, with testimonies collected from individuals in more than 46 towns and villages across the country, from Karen State in the east to Rakhine State in the west, and throughout central Myanmar.
The report was based on evidence collected by BHRN since March 2016. – Bernama