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Burmese Muslim Given Controversial Jail Term for Rape of Buddhist Woman

A woman and children clear debris of a burnt-down building in Htan Gone village of Kantbalu township, Sagaing Division, Burma, Aug. 26, 2013.
A court in Burma has handed down a controversial seven-year prison sentence to a Muslim teenager for the attempted rape and assault of a Buddhist woman, which sparked an anti-Muslim riot.

A court official in the northwestern town of Kantbalu in Sagaing Division said San Min Oo was convicted after a speedy trial in which he confessed to the crime. His lack of a defense attorney at his trial, however, is being criticized.

Burmese legal expert Robert San Aung said the sentence of five years for rape and two years for assault were improperly combined. He said once the defendant was charged with attempted rape, the assault charge should have been dropped.

"Imprisonment with separate charges of [these] criminal acts is not consistent [since] the rape attempt is already charged, [the charged of] physical force should not be applied," said San Aung.

Violence broke out August 24 after a mob surrounded a local police station demanding the suspect be turned over to the crowd. When he was not, the crowd rampaged through a Muslim area of town, burning shops and homes.

Tensions have been high between Burmese Buddhists and Muslims since last year's widespread violence that killed more than 200 and pushed tens of thousands from their homes.

That violence initially was sparked by the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by Muslim men, followed by the retaliatory killings of 10 Muslims by a Buddhist mob.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.