YANGON, Myanmar — Twenty-five Buddhists were sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes during a night of rioting, burning, and killing in central Myanmar. The sentence follows weeks in which it seemed only Muslims were being punished for sectarian violence aimed primarily at members of their own religion.
But the sentences issued Wednesday and Thursday did not erase a sense of unequal justice: A day earlier, a Muslim received a life sentence for murdering one of the 43 people killed March 20 and 21 in Meikhtila.
A wave of violence over the past year in this predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian country has left more than 250 people dead and 140,000 others fleeing their homes, most of them Muslim. The attacks, and the government’s inability to stop them, have marred the Southeast Asian country’s image abroad as it moves toward democracy and greater freedom following nearly five decades of military rule.
Most of the sentences were handed down Wednesday, and the toughest stemmed from the deadliest incident of the Meikhtila riots: a brutal mob attack on an Islamic school, its students, and teachers that killed 36 people.
Buddhist mobs torched Mingalar Zayone Islamic Boarding School, Muslim businesses, and all but one of the city’s 13 mosques following a dispute between a Muslim and a Buddhist at a gold shop and the burning death of a Buddhist monk by four Muslim men. While security forces stood by, a mob armed with machetes, metal pipes, chains, and stones killed 32 teenage students and four teachers. Video clips show mobs clubbing students to death and cheering as flames leap from corpses.
The state-run Keymon daily said eight people — seven Buddhists and one Muslim — were convicted Wednesday in Meikhtila district court for crimes connected to the school massacre. Tin Hlaing, a local reporter, said four of the eight were found guilty of murder, getting between 10 and 15 years in jail.