Whilst the atrocities inflicted on the Muslim Rohingya people of Myanmar grabs the world’s attention, they aren’t the only Muslim population who has suffered at the hands of the Myanmar military.
The Human Rights NGO Fortify Rights, who investigates human rights violations and engages policy-makers on solutions whilst strengthening human rights defenders and those affected communities, has spent years documenting the arbitrary arrest and detention of dozens of Burmese Muslims in Myanmar. Burmese Muslims are subject to arrest on baseless claims and face lengthy sentences following trials that fail to meet international fair trial standards.
This Muslim population has repeatedly suffered human rights abuses as the Myanmar Army has claimed the arrested have been part of Islamic militant activities or members of an apparent Myanmar Muslim Army, despite the government’s failure to present any evidence.
In one of the worst cases occurring in August 2014, the Myanmar military intelligence intercepted and arbitrarily arrested 14 Burmese Muslims traveling from Taunggyi to Kunhein, Shan State to attend a wedding. The bride and groom as well as the groom’s parents, friends, and individuals hired to assist in arranging the festivities were among those arrested.
Local District Courts handed down extremely harsh punishments in all cases involving detained Muslims with all failing to meet fair trail standards. Citing various sections of the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act sentences ranged from 14 years to life imprisonment with hard labour.
In October 2016, the Myanmar Government repealed this act which criminalized conduct intended to affect the morality or conduct of the public or a group of people in a way that would undermine the security of the Union or the restoration of law and order. But despite its repeal, still to this day 19 members of the wedding party and many others remain detained under the now defunct law and is part of a continuing issue of harassment of Muslim people inside Myanmar.
In this photo-series family members accompany the portraits of their loved ones who languish in prison, some too frightened to show their face due to on-going surveillance and fear of retribution.