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Locals in seven townships across Arakan State staged simultaneous protests on Friday against a new community radio station broadcasting in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships and providing Rohingya-language programming, which the protesters view as legitimising the Rohingya population.
Government-run May Yu FM was launched on 1 February and provides news services in Burmese, Arakanese and Rohingya languages.
The protests took place in Mrauk-U, Taunggup, Myebon, Kyauktaw, Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships on Friday afternoon. Nay Linn Htun, an organiser of the demonstration in Taunggup, said the Arakanese people cannot accept programming in the “Bengali” language.
“This is Burma so they must speak Burmese on air but we can in no way accept the programmes in Bengali. Burmese is the official language of Burma that all the ethnics groups — Kachin, Karen, Shan and Chin and such — can understand,” said Nay Linn Htun.
The Rohingya language is a dialect closely resembling Chittagonian, while “Bengali” is a term used by Arakan State’s ethnic Arakanese and much of the rest of the country to refer to the Muslim minority, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite many tracing roots in western Burma back generations.
“I object to the fact that people who are not recognised as an ethnic group of Burma are getting a privilege that the native people don’t,” Nay Linn Htun said.
Arakan State’s Rohingya Muslims are not recognised as one of Burma’s 135 official ethnic groups and have endured decades of state-sponsored discrimination. Communal violence between the state’s majority-Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 forced about 140,000 people — mostly Muslims — into displacement camps.
May Yu FM was launched in part to address the latest crisis to affect the Rohingya: a military crackdown on Muslims in northern Arakan State following 9 October attacks on border police posts by Rohingya militants.
“Conflicts have taken place recently in the region, causing rumours and invented stories to emerge,” read a statement from the Ministry of Information this week. “It is urgently needed to release the news for the local people living in the region to know the true stories and to know the programmes being carried out by the government and the ministries.”
Nyo Nyo, a Taunggup local who joined Friday’s protest, said broadcasting in the Rohingya language was an “insult” to Burma’s officially recognised ethnicities.
“There are 135 recognised ethnic groups in Burma and the majority of them do not have the privilege to even study in their own language at schools. We are given low priority in various sectors, not only education,” she said.
“And despite that, the [government] is now prioritising the Bengalis and this is an insult to us.”
The protesters held placards and shouted slogans such as “We don’t want the May Yu FM, the voice of Bengali” and “Suspend May Yu FM Now,” as well as calling for implementation of the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information said May Yu FM was “implemented for current needs within the restricted area” in northern Arakan State with a “view to reaching all local people” there.
The Arakan National Party’s regional parliament MP Maung Ohn, in an interview with DVB earlier this week, said: “The government said the purpose of the FM station is to provide accurate information, but then how do we know if their reporting is accurate if it is spoken in Bengali language?
“We see that it could also give the [Rohingya] a sense of empowerment in their case and [lead them to] start making more demands.”