By Hanna Hindstrom
The government has threatened legal action against the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) for publishing pictures of the woman whose rape and murder sparked sectarian violence in June, according to a report by the Narinjara news journal.
The Union Election Commission summoned RNDP leaders to Naypidaw on Monday and demanded an explanation for the release of a calendar with pictures of Thida Htwe, who was allegedly killed by three Muslims on 28 May in Arakan state, and set off Burma’s worst communal violence in decades.
The party was also warned over plans to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Empire on 31 December, which authorities say could “undermine” national unity, as well as the use of racist language against Muslims in their party newsletter. The President’s Office and Ministry of Home Affairs have reportedly demanded formal explanations from the party.
“We were warned that should we fail to provide formidable explanations [for these actions], we will be prosecuted under the law,” Zaw Aye Maung told Narinjara.
The RNDP insists the calendar of Thida Htwe was intended to raise funds for a monastery in her name at the request of her parents.
“The parents believe building a monastery with money made from selling her calendar will help her find peace,” said Zaw Aye Maung. “There was no intention to incite further unrest.”
In July, Snapshot news journal was controversially suspended for publishing graphic pictures of Thida Htwe’s corpse.
The RNDP also pledged to avoid using offensive language again, but defended their plans to celebrate the fall of the Arakan Kingdom. “We didn’t intend to disintegrate ethnic unity in the country. Just like the Burmese people have a right to remember their King Thibaw, we the Arakanese also have a right to remember our King Maha Thammada,” said Central Executive Committee member Aye Nu Sein.
The party has courted significant controversy over its role in fuelling hostility between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan state, since violence first erupted in June. Their leader Dr Aye Maung has repeatedly emphasised that Rohingyas are “illegal Bengali immigrants” and cannot be accepted in Burma.
Over 100,000 people have been displaced and nearly 200 people killed in two bouts of clashes this year. The Rohingya community, which is denied citizenship by the government and popularly reviled, has become the targets of several high-profile attacks, including calls for Buddhists not to trade with them.
Some analysts speculate that the RNDP is exploiting nationalistic fervour to secure broader political support in a region currently dominated by the majority Bamar and military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
After the second wave of clashes, state media warned of legal action against organisations and individuals responsible for “instigating” hostility behind the scenes. The government also claims to have arrested over 1,000 people since June, although Muslim sources say they have primarily targeted the Rohingya community.
In an interview with DVB earlier this month, the RNDP denied accusations of fuelling violence, but insisted that it would be “impossible” for Buddhists and Muslims to live together again.