Fresh protests in Rakhine over citizenship verification

By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER

YANGON — Residents across Rakhine State are staging a weeklong protest against the ongoing citizenship verification process, with demonstrators once again calling for criminal charges against the state’s senior immigration officer.

Several hundred people joined a protest in Buthidaung town Monday to call for the verification process to be conducted in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law, a demand that government MPs say is based on a “misunderstanding”.

The protesters claim that the issuing national identification cards since the resumption of citizenship scrutiny last year had not been conducted lawfully, and asked the government to arrest Rakhine immigration chief U Win Lwin.

“If the government does not solve the problem with what we ask for, then we will continue demonstrating to the end,” U Maung Thar Phyu, one of the Buthidaung protesters, told Frontier by phone.

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Similar protests are being held in Mrauk-U, Myebon, Maungdaw and Sittwe throughout this week.

Pyithu MP Daw Phyu Phyu Thin (NLD, Mingalar Taung Nyunt) told Frontier the government supported upholding the 1982 Citizenship law and the protests were based on a misunderstanding between the authorities and Rakhine locals.

“If the procedure on the national verification card is truly misleading against the law, it has to be reviewed,” she said, adding that the situation would improve if the government listened to the concerns of the Rakhine community.

More than one million people in Rakhine State are stateless, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many Muslims in the state have documentary evidence proving earlier governments had granted them citizenship, only to have it withdrawn in the 1980s and 1990s.

A pilot project by the U Thein Sein administration in 2014 granted a mix of more than 200 Kaman and Rohingya applicants citizenship before it was suspended in the wake of a backlash from the ethnic Rakhine community.

The following year, the Thein Sein government declared invalid the provisional identification documents known as white cards that had been issued to Muslims in Rakhine State who did not hold citizenship.

The government resumed citizenship verification in May 2016, leading to condemnation and protests from Rakhine civil society groups and the Arakan National Party.

Protesters in Sittwe last month called for Win Lwin to be put on trial, alleging he had illegally issued a national registration card to a woman who had no legitimate claim to Myanmar citizenship.

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