Five Myanmar men have been fined under a restrictive printing law for publishing a calendar that described the country’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya as a recognised ethnic minority, police said on Tuesday.
The men were arrested over the weekend in Yangon and fined US$800 each on Monday after pleading guilty to an offence that carries up to two years in prison.
Myanmar’s government does not recognise the term Rohingya and insists the minority group does not face official persecution.
“They admitted and confessed very fast. So the court charged them one million kyat (around US$800) each,” Khin Maung Let, chief police officer at Pazundaung township said.
The fine is no small sum in a country where the average per capita annual income is around US$1,200.
Khin Maung Let said police were initially alerted to the calendar via Facebook with officers subsequently raiding a printing press on the outskirts of Yangon.
“The calendar contained words and photos saying the Rohingya are an ethnic minority of Myanmar. That is against the law and such activity threatens the law and order of the country,” he added.
A sixth suspect is on the run, he said.
Myanmar’s Printing and Publishing Law bans publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order.
The country’s Rohingya are a heavily persecuted Muslim minority who have been hardest hit by deadly bouts of communal violence in the Buddhist-majority nation at a time of surging religious nationalism.
The United Nations and other rights groups have condemned their treatment in western Rakhine state where they face restrictions over employment and travel with many living in bleak displacement camps.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were unable to vote in this month’s landmark elections after their citizenship was cancelled.
The government says the majority are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many have lived in the country for generations.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine in perilous sea crossings, usually bound for mostly Muslim Malaysia in search of better opportunities.
Many were spurred to leave after violent 2012 clashes in the state left around 200 people dead and some 140,000 displaced, mostly Rohingya.
Anti-Muslim sentiment across Myanmar has also been fuelled by the rise of hardline Buddhist nationalist groups.
None of the major parties – including Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy – fielded any Muslim candidates in this month’s election despite the minority making up some five per cent of the population.