SITTWE — A Rakhine leader facing treason charges linked to deadly riots appeared in a Myanmar court on Wednesday, a case that has aggravated ethnic tensions in Rakhine State.
Dr Aye Maung, once the chairman of the Arakan National Party, was arrested after the unrest for allegedly making an inflammatory speech against the government.
State-backed media said he railed against the government for treating Rakhine people as “slaves” and said it was the “right time” for the community to launch an armed struggle.
The following day ethnic Rakhine protesters briefly seized a government building in Mrauk U. Police opened fire on the mob and killed seven people.
Aye Maung, who faces charges of high treason, incitement and unlawful association, has insisted on his innocence and accused local authorities of a politicised witch-hunt.
“We think that the administrative side wants to charge us. That’s why the judicial pillar must stand firmly,” he told AFP at the heavily-guarded court in Sittwe.
Some 100 protesters rallied outside the courthouse in support of both Aye Maung and fellow detainee and writer Wai Hin Aung, who faces the same charges for a speech at the same event.
“We feel very sorry to see Dr Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung like this. They are working for the people,” 53-year-old Tin Phyu said.
Gabrielle Aron, an independent analyst in Myanmar, said a guilty verdict would be widely interpreted as a move to “politically oppress the Rakhine people”.
The proceedings “have the potential to further destabilise an already tense situation,” she added.