From Malala to the Taliban, anger across Asia at Myanmar’s violence against Rohingya Muslims

A women's group demonstrates outside the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, in protest of a crackdown against minority Rohingya Muslims.
(Ed Wray / Getty Images)

Hundreds of protesters in Indonesia rallied for the third straight day Monday as Muslim nations across Asia voiced growing concern over Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown against its Rohingya Muslim minority .

Gathering outside the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta, the demonstrators, mostly hijab-clad women, chanted, “God is great!” and demanded the Indonesian government put pressure on neighboring Myanmar to stop the military operation that has sent tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees streaming into camps in Bangladesh — the second such exodus in the last 12 months.

“We are here because of solidarity of Muslims,” said one demonstrator who gave her name as Mama Bahin.

The protests in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country reflected deepening outrage across Asia over the treatment of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority of about 1.1 million people in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. But there was no immediate sign that the protests would sway Myanmar, which has ignored criticism of its treatment of the Rohingya for years.

The Rohingya — whom Myanmar characterizes as illegal immigrants even though many have lived there for generations — are denied citizenship and have faced an escalating campaign of violence by security forces and Buddhist groups since 2012.


The latest crackdown began after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, killing 12 police officers. Myanmar authorities and pro-government vigilante groups responded with brutal force, setting fire to Rohingya villages and shooting civilians, according to accounts from human rights groups.

The United Nations said Monday that 87,000 Rohingya had crossed the border from Rakhine into Bangladesh in the last two weeks, further swelling overcrowded refugee camps and taking the total Rohingya exodus into Bangladesh since October to 174,000. Bangladeshi authorities, who in the past have tried to block Rohingya from entering the country, are not stopping the new flow of refugees, in part because their numbers are so great.

Rohingya Muslims in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, display bullet wounds they say were inflicted by Myanmar army soldiers.
(Muneeza Naqvi / AP)

Authorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, said that of almost 400 people killed since Aug. 25, nearly all are insurgents. Officials on Sunday accused insurgents of burning Buddhist monasteries and statues.

The protesters in Jakarta said they wanted to raise awareness of the impact on Rohingya women who — according to eyewitness accounts cited by the U.N. — were sexually assaulted by Myanmar security forces during similar military operations in late 2016.

Much of the anger focused on the leader of Myanmar’s governing party, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has refused to criticize the army’s actions. Her government’s control over the military is limited by Myanmar’s Constitution, which allocates key security ministries and one-quarter of parliament seats to the army.

Early Sunday, a Molotov cocktail landed on the Myanmar Embassy grounds in Jakarta, causing no casualties but prompting a police investigation.

On Monday, as Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met Suu Kyi and army leaders in Myanmar, some demonstrators in Jakarta called for Indonesia to sever diplomatic ties with Myanmar.

“We as Muslims want Minister Retno not only to discuss humanitarian help with Suu Kyi but as the biggest Muslim [country] in the world to put more pressure on Myanmar,” said Eva Rachman, another demonstrator. “The ambassadors should go back to their countries.”

Following the meeting, Marsudi said she had pressed Suu Kyi and the Myanmar army to bring an immediate end to violence in Rakhine and allow Southeast Asian nations to assist with aid distribution.

“The priority is the safety of the Rohingya refugees,” Marsudi told Indonesian television.

Condemnations of Myanmar and Suu Kyi poured in over the weekend from several Muslim-majority countries in Asia.


The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist from Pakistan, 20-year-old Malala Yousafzai, said she had been shocked by pictures of children apparently killed by Myanmar security forces and called on Pakistan to open its doors to Rohingya refugees.

“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Yousafzai, who survived a shooting attack by Pakistani Taliban insurgents in 2012, said in a statement. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.”

The Pakistani government said Sunday that it was “deeply concerned” about the violence and urged Myanmar to “hold those involved accountable and take necessary measures to protect the rights of Rohingya Muslims.”


The Afghan Taliban, which is widely blamed for killing civilians, including children, in its insurgent campaign against the U.S.-backed Afghan government, condemned what it called Myanmar’s campaign of “ethnic cleansing” during Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals on the Islamic calendar.

“We welcome the statements of support for the Muslims of Burma by those governments of the Islamic world, organizations, media and individuals who have raised their voices,” the group said in a statement Monday. “We similarly call on Muslims worldwide to not forget these oppressed brothers of yours.”

The Afghan government condemned the “massacre” by Myanmar’s forces and urged the U.N. and human rights organizations to investigate the attacks.


The Turkish foreign minister last week called on Bangladesh to open its doors to refugees, saying Turkey would pay the bill. Turkey has so far contributed $70 million in relief assistance to the Rohingya.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken by phone with more than a dozen fellow Muslim heads of state, the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper reported. Erdogan has said Myanmar’s actions amount to “genocide” against the Rohingya and pledged to bring up the issue at this month’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.


Last week, hundreds of Rohingya living in Malaysia demonstrated in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian police stopped them from marching to the Myanmar Embassy, prompting a chaotic confrontation in which nearly 100 protesters were arrested.

In late 2016, Malaysia’s government strongly criticized Myanmar over the expulsions of Rohingya, although some critics called it an attempt by Prime Minister Najib Razak to divert attention from embezzlement allegations.

But Malaysia has refrained from criticizing Myanmar over the current crackdown. One senior official said last week’s protests were carried out “independently” and did not reflect the government’s view, while Najib in a tweet on Sunday called for “calm and restraint.”


Outside Asia, in the Russian republic of Chechnya, large crowds of Muslims gathered in the capital, Grozny, in pro-Rohingya demonstrations supported by the powerful Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

In an address to protesters in the predominantly Muslim republic, Kadyrov — accused of persecuting gays, whom he has called “devils” — compared Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya to the Holocaust.

Special correspondent Roughneen reported from Jakarta and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia

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