USCIRF Welcomes Release of Hundreds of Imprisoned Rohingya in Burma, Calls for More to be Released

Apr 17, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 17, 2020

USCIRF Welcomes Release of Hundreds of Imprisoned Rohingya in Burma, Calls for More to be Released

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes Burmese authorities dropping charges of illegal travel against over 200 Rohingya and releasing them from prison.

Since 2001, the government has required Rohingya to have passes in order to travel outside Rakhine State, which are difficult to obtain. These restrictions have resulted in thousands of Rohingya imprisoned on illegal travel charges, especially as many attempt to flee the ongoing Burmese military operations.

Amid the worsening crisis with COVID-19, releasing hundreds of wrongfully imprisoned Rohingya is an encouraging step by Burmese authorities,” stated USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza. “This process must continue. Individuals held in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons face an increased threat from this disease. With thousands more Rohingya unjustly imprisoned, we strongly urge the Burmese government to release them all as a humanitarian gesture amid the country’s efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19.”

USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava added, “We also express our concern with the worsening conditions for civilians within Rakhine State and neighboring Chin State where Burmese military operations have continued. With the growing threat from COVID-19, the Burmese government must ensure that humanitarian and medical aid is able to reach these vulnerable communities—including camps for internally displaced persons—regardless of religious or ethnic identity. This includes lifting the internet blockade in Rakhine and Chin States re-imposed in February, which further hampers aid efforts and the COVID-19 response in the region.”

USCIRF has called upon governments around the world to release religious prisoners of conscience due to the elevated risk of COVID-19 spreading within prison populations due to their inability to social distance and follow public health guidance. To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on religious freedom, please see the USCIRF Factsheet: The Global Response to the Coronavirus: Impact on Religious Practice and Religious Freedom.

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The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at Media@USCIRF.gov or Danielle Ashbahian at dashbahian@uscirf.gov.