Hong Kong protest against Rohingya persecution to urge help for Myanmar Muslim minority
Demonstrators to urge city’s government to speak out against violence and offer humanitarian aid
Community groups in Hong Kong were set to protest on Sunday against the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, urging the city’s government and lawmakers to condemn violence against the Muslim ethnic minority and provide humanitarian support.
Zaiq Ali, chairman of the Hong Kong Islamic Youth Association, one of the organisers of the protest, said about 1,000 people were expected to join the march, scheduled to start at 2pm at Tamar Park in Admiralty. Demonstrators will walk to the city’s legislature and then to the Myanmar consulate, where letters will be delivered setting out their demands.
After decades of ethnic tension, violence broke out again in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on August 25 after a Rohingya armed group attacked government forces. The military, supported by Buddhist militias, then launched a counteroffensive which destroyed villages and may have killed more than 1,000 people while forcing about 270,000 to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
“More than a religious issue, this is a humanitarian matter,” Ali said.
The protest in Hong Kong would bring together several local Muslim as well as Catholic and other Christian associations under an umbrella group named the Hong Kong Working Group Against Rohingya Genocide, he said.
“We want to raise awareness of this issue and have a unified condemnation by Hong Kong people. We also want to lobby the Legislative Council to condemn the genocide that is happening at our doorstep.”
Ali said he hoped the Hong Kong government would offer financial aid to those displaced by the violence.
“We got in touch with people in Bangladesh who are building temporary shelters. It would be good if we could provide financial support and meet some of their basic needs, such as blankets,” he said.
The recent clashes in Myanmar have sparked international concern. Refugee camps in Bangladesh taking in the Rohingya fleeing across the border have seen their capacity exhausted, and aid organisations have been blocked from helping those stranded in the northern part of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to the country’s one million Rohingya population.
United Nations secretary general António Guterres said this week the conflict was at risk of ethnic cleansing and called on authorities to end violence against the minority group.
“We also want to pressurise the Myanmar government to stop this genocide immediately and allow the United Nations to investigate the conflict,” Ali said. “We are afraid that this persecution of minorities will lead to further alienation and isolation, which is perfect breeding ground for terrorism,” he said.
The Hong Kong demonstration follows a string of worldwide action on the issue that included protests this week in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne, where those taking part called for stronger international intervention in what has been described by rights groups as a “major humanitarian crisis”.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has claimed the government is doing its best to defend all people in Rakhine state. But Amnesty International has described the authorities’ response to the crisis as “unconscionable”.
“This is a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe. In her first comments on the crisis, instead of promising concrete action to protect the people in Rakhine state, Aung San Suu Kyi appears to be downplaying the horrific reports coming out of the area,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director, in Cox’s Bazar near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
“With tens of thousands of Rohingya pouring across the border, and thousands of others displaced in the state, the evidence that the Myanmar military has launched a vicious campaign of retaliatory violence against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people is overwhelming,” Hassan said, while calling for aid agencies to be allowed to intervene.
On Thursday, Associated Press reported that journalists in Rakhine state had seen new fires burning in a village abandoned by Rohingya Muslims, and pages ripped from Islamic texts found on the ground. The accounts deepened doubts about government claims that members of the minority had been destroying their own homes.
The Rohingya are not recognised as one of the 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar and are denied citizenship, which means many are deprived of basic rights such as access to health services, travel or study.