BURMA

Burma court fines makers of Rohingya ethnic minority calendar

A page of a banned Rohingya-themed calender. The photo is described as featuring a Rohingya named U Zai Naw Dain (1890-1946) who served as a schoolmaster in Sittwe, Burma.
A page of a banned Rohingya-themed calender. The photo is described as featuring a Rohingya named U Zai Naw Dain (1890-1946) who served as a schoolmaster in Sittwe, Burma.

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This calendar looks innocent enough. It highlights the history of Burma’s Rohingya, describing them as a Muslim ethnic minority. But there’s a problem. Alhough they have lived in the country for generations, the Burmese government refuses to acknowledge the Rohingya as Burmese, calling them “Bengalis” and insisting they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Five men connected to the publication of the calendar have been fined 800 dollars each, and a sixth suspect is being sought.

The calendar-makers – which, according to the police, included two Buddhists and two Muslims – were fined for breaking the country’s printing and publishing law, which bars publishing materials that could “damage national security and law and order”.

The 2016 calendar uses the taboo term Rohingya. It also says that there used to be a Rohingya radio station back in the 1950s, and that the prime minister at the time, U Nu, had publicly used the word Rohingya.

The trouble started after photos of the calendar began circulating on Facebook. It was spotted by extremist Buddhist nationalists, who have gained strength in recent years and used their influence to wage violent campaigns against Burma’s Muslims. Even after the police arrested the men on Saturday, radical monks held a day-long meeting on Sunday in the town of North Dagon to denounce the calendar.

Due to increasing persecution, the Rohingya have fled the country in droves these past couple of years. In western Rakhine state, thousands have been locked up in internment camps.

Another page in the calendar: "U Shwe Hnin, government Officer during the British Colony in Burma".

"U Ba Tun, broadcaster for a Rohingya ethnic program on the government radio Voice of Burma (1961-1963)"