Myanmar court jails Rakhine leader for 20 years for treason

# 16:55
19 March 2019

A Myanmar court on Tuesday sentenced a prominent ethnic Rakhine leader to 20 years in jail for treason, a verdict likely to intensify anger amid fighting between the ethnic group and the army, ONA reports.

Security forces tried to calm hundreds of supporters outside the court in Rakhine state capital Sittwe as Aye Maung was escorted to a waiting police van following the verdict.

Aye Maung, the former chairman of the Arakan National Party -- which is renowned for hardline views against the Rohingya Muslim minority -- was sentenced for treason and defamation over an allegedly inflammatory speech in January 2018, a day before deadly riots.

State-backed media at the time said he railed against the central government for treating the ethnic Rakhine as "slaves" and said it was the "right time" for the community to launch an armed struggle.

The following evening, Rakhine protesters briefly seized a government building and police opened fire, killing seven people.

Aye Maung and a fellow detainee -- writer Wai Hin Aung, who also gave a speech at the same rally -- were detained days later.

"Both Dr Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung were sentenced to 20 years each... for the charge of high treason and two years each for defamation of the state," Wai Hin Aung's defence lawyer Aye Nu Sein told AFP.

Myanmar's Rakhine state is cut by violence and hatred.

A brutal military crackdown in 2017 forced some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh.

Yet the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population, some of whom are accused of aiding soldiers in the anti-Rohingya campaign, also feels marginalized by the state.

The lawyer said they were discussing whether to appeal.

Treason can carry the death sentence.