Nationalist Mob Shuts Down Ramadan Prayers in Yangon

A nationalist mob descended on a residential area on the outskirts of Yangon on Wednesday night to force Muslims to halt their Ramadan prayers, at one point threatening a man with a knife as police stood by, witnesses said.

An estimated 150 nationalists roamed through three neighbourhoods in South Dagon Township, pushing their way into prayer rooms in people’s homes and telling Muslims gathered there to stop praying.

“This is for our race and religion!” shouted Michael Kyaw Myint, an apparent leader of the mob, as he thrust his hand in the air in front of police officers to cheers from the crowd.

“We members of the public will tear down the Muslim mosque here in this township,” he added.

The township in fact does not have an official mosque, but the mob objected to Yangon authorities granting some Muslim residents permission to hold the prayers in their homes.

At one point nationalists detained a journalist and threatened him with a knife, said Thet Swe Win, an interfaith harmony activist. The police took no action against the assailants, he added.

Police briefly held the journalist in a squad car after the incident.  

“The mob members were behaving aggressively in front of the police. They also threw stones at a car… but the police made no move at all,” he told Myanmar Now.

Muslim residents were forced on Wednesday to demolish areas used for washing feet after nationalists said the facilities made the building resemble a mosque.

South Dagon Township has an estimated 10,000 Muslims, but authorities have never allowed them to construct a mosque.

Michael Kyaw Myint, the apparent mob leader, was jailed last year on charges of defaming Yangon’s chief minister, Phyo Min Thein, and has recently appeared at pro-military rallies to protest the NLD government’s efforts to amend the 2008 constitution.

During last night’s unrest he shouted that the government of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is “useless” at protecting the country’s majority Buddhist population.

Colonel Myo Thu Soe, a Myanmar Police Force spokesperson, told Myanmar Now without elaborating that the police have not opened any cases relating the incident.

The mob dispersed at about midnight, but only after they made local Muslim leaders sign a statement agreeing not to hold any more prayers, said Wunna Shwe, who is secretary general of the Myanmar Islamic Council and witnessed the incident.

“This was not a binding agreement,” he told Myanmar Now. “We were just forced to sign.”

Members of the mob said they would return to the area Thursday evening to make sure there were no prayers. 

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