05/17/2019, 15.00
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Three mosques closed near Yangon following threats by Buddhist nationalists

Muslims in South Dagon were allowed to use three buildings during Ramadan, but a mob of 200 extremists forced Islamic leaders to promise not to pray there anymore. For one activist, “there are no legal protections for minorities.”

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) – Threats by a group of Buddhist nationalists have led to the forced closure of three temporary Islamic places of prayer, set up for Ramadan in South Dagon, a township southeast of Yangon.

Regional authorities had granted the Islamic community permission to use three residential buildings for religious purposes, for the duration of the holy month (6 May-7 June) in South Dagon’s Wards 26, 106 and 64 respectively.

Three days ago, a crowd of about 200 people – including some monks – gathered at the designated building in Ward 26, a local official told the Irrawaddy newspaper. After inspecting it, they declared it “illegal” and forced Muslims community leaders to sign a pledge not to use the facility for prayers.

An RFA reporter present at the scene said that all this happened under the eyes of government officials, who did not intervene. The same scene was repeated the following day, at the other two temporary prayer rooms.

U Michael Kyaw Myint, who led the nationalist protests, says Islamic religious activities in residential buildings are unacceptable and promised to shut down places of worship frequented by Muslims in other neighbourhoods.

“They [the authorities] may accept this but we don’t,” he said, adding that his group plans to “find more in this township and stop them.”

According to U Nyi, a member of the Yangon regional parliament, local Muslims have sought to build a permanent place of worship in the area for some time, but South Dagon Township residents have raised objections in the past, hence the temporary Ramadan sites.

Ko Mya Aye, a member of the 88 Generation group, a pro-democracy group that led a student protest against the country’s military regime 30 years ago, noted that nationalists disregard the rule of law by going over the heads of government officials.

“If there’s no official permission, then legal action can be taken. However, this is showing there are no legal protections for minorities. This is not good for the country,” he lamented.  

“As our country is facing many pressures from the international community, this incident is using religious affairs to affect the politics of the country. Our country’s image is affected badly in the face of the international community.”

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