Myanmarese Medical Doctor Tun Aung Conditionally Released
January 23, 2015
Tun Aung, a 65-year-old Myanmarese medical doctor and chair of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council in Maungdaw, was released on January 19, 2015, after more than two and half years in prison. The week before his release, he was interviewed in prison by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee during her second official trip to Myanmar. According to Amnesty International, Dr. Tun Aung's release was conditional. Although it is not clear what the conditions are, he is at risk of rearrest and imprisonment. Sentenced to 17 years for allegedly inciting violence following an unfair trial, Dr. Tun Aung was subsequently granted a nine-year reduction in his sentence through a presidential pardon and several additional reductions in the form of amnesties. He was due to be released in late 2015.
Dr. Tun Aung was detained in June 2012, several days after riots broke out between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Maungdaw, Rakhine state in western Myanmar. Reliable reports indicate that on June 8, when the riots began, local authorities who sought to quell the violence asked Dr. Tun Aung—in view of his position within the local community as a respected Rohingya Muslim leader—to help the police by going to a local mosque and calming a crowd that was gathered there. According to eyewitnesses, Dr. Tun Aung went to the mosque and actively tried to calm the crowd. Despite his efforts, however, the riots continued. He and members of his family took refuge that evening at the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) office to escape the violence. After UNHCR staff members were evacuated from the area, Dr. Tun Aung and his family were verbally threatened by Rakhine Buddhists. On June 11, 2012, he was detained and accused of inciting communal violence. His arrest reportedly was one of many made by the Myanmarese government at the time, which included the arrest of a number of UNHCR staff and nongovernmental aid workers.
The sectarian violence that broke out between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine in mid 2012 started when reports spread that a 27-year-old Buddhist Rakhine woman was raped and murdered on May 28, 2012. Police reportedly detained three Muslim men the following day. On June 3, a crowd of approximately 300 Rakhine Buddhist residents reportedly stopped a bus that was enroute to Yangon and killed 10 Muslim passengers in a retaliatory attack. Intense violence ensued in the days following the incident between ethnic and religious groups. It was in response to this situation that Dr. Tun Aung was asked by the Myanmarese government to help police quell the violence. According to Amnesty International, the violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas continues, on a sporadic basis. Government forces made a massive number of arrests, largely targeting Rohingya and other Muslim populations, and hundreds remain in detention in Rakhine state.
The CHR and the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies undertook Dr. Tun Aung's case shortly after his detention. Several dozen letters of appeal were sent to the Myanmarese authorities by the committee, other members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, and member academies of the international human rights network.