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A group of Muslim youths detained in Rangoon last month appeared at a court in North Okkalapa Township on Monday to face charges under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act.
The 17 Muslim teenagers from Arakan State’s Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya townships were detained on 22 October during a police raid on a safe house near the Shwe Paukkan Industrial Zone in North Okkalapa allegedly run by human smugglers who they paid to take them to Malaysia.
Most of the members of the group were subsequently charged under Articles 6(2) and 6(3) of the Residents of Burma Registration Act for having no identification. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour or a 500-kyat fine.
Four of the teenagers who were under 18 were not included in the trial. They are currently in custody at the Training Schools for Boys in Thanlyin Township, run by the Ministry of Welfare. The rest of the group have been detained at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison.
According to media reports, the boys paid 1.1 million kyat (US$860) each to be transported from Arakan State to Rangoon, and a similar amount to continue their journey to Malaysia.
In previous years, large numbers of ethnic Rohingya from Arakan have fled the region by boat to neighbouring countries to escape poverty and discrimination. However, efforts to stem the flow of boat people have made the journey by sea more difficult.
In May of last year, mass graves were discovered along the Thai-Malaysia border, believed to contain the bodies of Rohingyas who died while awaiting payment of ransoms to be smuggled into Malaysia by a trafficking gang comprised of Thai, Burmese and Malaysian nationals.
The North Okkalapa Township court’s judge Nanda Myo said the trial is set to conclude with a verdict on 21 November.