Myanmar Muslim street prayer organizers face Ramadan in jail

YANGON - When Cho Nwe Soe went to a Yangon court last month with her husband, she expected he would be fined for organizing prayers in the street without a permit last year, and that they could go back home to prepare for Ramadan - the Muslim holy month.

Instead, her 41-year-old husband Aung San Lin and six other Myanmar Muslims, who last year organized the Ramadan street prayers after local madrassas were shuttered by Buddhist nationalists, were sent to jail for three months.

?I went insane. I didn?t know what to do,? said Cho Nwe Soe, wiping away her tears. She was speaking at the teashop the couple have run together for 12 years in Yangon?s eastern Thaketa township, home to many of the city?s Muslims.

The prison terms have unsettled many Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, and prompted human rights monitors to urge the government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to guarantee religious freedoms.

Global attention on the position of Muslims in Myanmar has largely focused on the Rohingya minority in the western state of Rakhine, after an army crackdown sent nearly 700,000 fleeing to Bangladesh. Activists say the jailing of the prayer leaders is a reminder that Muslims across the Southeast Asian nation face forms of discrimination and curbs on basic rights.

?Clear religious discrimination, and blatant violation of freedom of religion,? said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, in a tweet following the sentencing.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment.

Two Yangon madrassas, which served as both religious schools and places of worship, were closed by local authorities last May under pressure from Buddhist nationalists, on the grounds they were operating without official approval.