Muslims on 2 Continents Protest Persecution in Myanmar

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HONG KONG — Protests erupted Monday among Muslims in Asia, Australia and Russia over a military campaign in Myanmar that has forced tens of thousands of fellow Muslims to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

The demonstrations raised the pressure on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once embodied her country’s fight for democracy and human rights.

In Chechnya, tens of thousands poured into the streets in a government-sanctioned protest against what the country’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, called Myanmar’s “genocide” against the persecuted Rohingya minority.

Mr. Kadyrov also criticized the Russian government, issuing vague threats if the Kremlin does nothing to stop violence that he compared to the Holocaust. “If Russia were to support the devils who are perpetrating the crimes, I will go against Russia,” he said in a video released before the rally.

Demonstrations against the targeting of the Rohingya took place on Monday outside Australia’s Parliament in Canberra. In Jakarta, Indonesia, protesters burned photos of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and lobbed a gasoline bomb at the Myanmar Embassy.

“The world remains silent in the face of the massacre of Rohingya Muslims,” Farida, an Indonesian who organized the protest and uses one name, told reporters.

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry and the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, deplored the violence against Rohingya refugees and called for an investigation of the reported massacres.

Amid the protests, a fellow peace prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, took to Twitter to confront Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, asking her to condemn the violence. Some wondered whether the Nobel Committee, which conferred the honor on her in 1991, would publicly criticize her or could even revoke the prize.

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, appeared to go even further, suggesting Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi should intervene on behalf of the Rohingya.

“That’s what we would expect from any government, to protect everybody within their own jurisdiction,” Ms. Lee told the BBC on Monday.

A Malta-based humanitarian group that has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean for three years said on Monday that it was suspending operations there and sending its rescue ship, Phoenix, to the Bay of Bengal to aid Rohingya Muslims fleeing Mayanmar for Bangladesh. The move follows months of rising tensions between the group, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, and Italian and Libyan authorities.

The latest violence in Myanmar began last month when Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar military positions. They said they were trying to prevent further persecution by the country’s security forces.

The military responded with what it has called “clearance operations.” According to human rights groups, soldiers razed hundreds of Rohingya homes in Rakhine State. As a result, thousands of Rohingya have made the treacherous journey to squalid refugee camps across the border.

Their plight has drawn increased attention — and renewed criticism — from many people around the world.

“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Ms. Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim and the youngest recipient of the Nobel, said in a Twitter post on Monday. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.”

Last year, a group of Nobel laureates — including Ms. Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu and 11 other recipients — signed an open letter that “warned of the potential for genocide.”

Some critics of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi blamed her for the crisis and called for her prize to be revoked. Those appeals are particularly poignant given Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s history as a political prisoner. She spent 15 years under house arrest after winning a presidential election in 1988, which the ruling junta refused to honor.

Under a power-sharing agreement, she was appointed state counselor after her party, the National League for Democracy, won in a landslide election in 2015. Still, under the law, she cannot become president and the military effectively controls many of the state’s levers of power.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been conspicuously silent on the Rohingya issue, and when pressed by reporters, she has toed the official line of the military, which contends that the Rohingya are illegally squatting inside Myanmar.

“No, it’s not ethnic cleansing,” she said in a rare interview on the subject in 2013.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is not the first Nobel laureate to stir controversy. In the past, activists have called on the committee to revoke the awards of Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama. In 1994, one member of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest when the award was shared among the Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The committee member, Kaare Kristiansen, called Mr. Arafat a “terrorist” who did not deserve the prize.

The Nobel Committee, all Norwegian citizens appointed by the country’s Parliament, will not rescind Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s prize, said Gunnar Stalsett, a former committee member.

“The principle we follow is the decision is not a declaration of a saint,” said Mr. Stalsett, a former politician and bishop who was a deputy member of the committee in 1991, when Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi received her award.. “When the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee.”

Source:nytimes.com