Myanmar Rohingya calendar men jailed on new charges: police

A Rohingya man and boy gather at their shelter at the Thel-Chaung displacement camp in Sittwe located in Rakhine State, Myanmar (AFP Photo/Myat Thu) (AFP)

Five Myanmar men fined for publishing a calendar that described the country's persecuted Muslim Rohingya as a recognised ethnic minority have been rearrested and jailed on fresh charges, police said Wednesday.

The men were initially taken into custody over the weekend in Yangon and fined $800 each on Monday after pleading guilty to a publishing law offence.

But they have now been rearrested and jailed on separate charges of inciting alarm or panic, a charge that carries up to two years jail.

"We arrested five persons yesterday under the warrant by the court. They were sent to Insein prison," Khin Maung Latt, police chief of Pazundaung township, told AFP, referring to the city's notorious junta era prison.

Local media reported that the calendar, which initially appeared on Facebook, quoted former officials from the 1950s and 1960s as saying Myanmar's Rohingya were a distinct ethnic group.

It also contained quotes from Myanmar's liberation hero Aung San in 1946 saying Muslims and Buddhists should live in peace with each other.

Myanmar's government does not recognise the term Rohingya, arguing that the Muslim minority are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite the fact that many have lived in the country for generations.

Use of the term has become both sensitive and dangerous in recent years as Myanmar undergoes a surge of Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The United Nations and other rights groups have condemned the treatment of the Rohingya in western Rakhine state where they face restrictions over employment and travel with many living in bleak displacement camps.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were also unable to vote in this month's landmark elections after they were struck off voter lists.

Local media reported that the arrests of the men came after hardline Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha complained about the calendar.

Parmaukkha, a monk and prominent Ma Ba Tha member, said the organisation had not placed pressure on police to rearrest the men.

"Regarding the calender, we cannot accept it at all because we do not have Rohingya in our Myanmar history," he told AFP.