The systematic persecution of minority Muslims is on the rise across Myanmar and not just confined to the northwestern state of Rakhine, where recent violence has sent at least 123,000 of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh, a UK-based rights group said.
The Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) said on Tuesday that the persecution was backed by the government, elements among the country’s Buddhist monks and ultra-nationalist civilian groups.
“The transition to democracy has allowed popular prejudices to influence how the new government rules, and has amplified a dangerous narrative that casts Muslims as an alien presence in Buddhist-majority Burma [Myanmar],” the group said in a report.
The report draws on more than 350 interviews in more than 46 towns and villages over an eight-month period since March 2016.
Myanmar’s government made no immediate response to the report.
Authorities deny discrimination and say security forces in Rakhine are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists”.
Myanmar’s security forces and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been facing international condemnation over the recent plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The Rohingya have been forced to live under apartheid-like restrictions on movement and citizenship.
The latest wave of violence, which first began last October when a small Rohingya fighter group ambushed border posts, is the worst Rakhine has witnessed in years, with the UN saying Myanmar’s army may have committed ethnic cleansing in its response.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar’s military rulers, has come under increasing fire over her perceived unwillingness to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya or chastise the military.
She has made no public comment since the latest fighting broke out on August 25.
Besides Rohingya Muslims, the BHRN’s report also examines the wider picture of Muslims of different ethnicities across Myanmar, following waves of communal violence in 2012 and 2013.
It says many Muslims of all ethnicities have been refused national identification cards, while access to Islamic places of worship has been blocked in some places.
At least 21 villages around Myanmar have declared themselves “no-go zones” for Muslims, backed by the authorities, it said.