Myanmar’s government has banned Muslims from registering as ‘Rohingya’ in the country’s census, as atrocities persist against followers of Islam in the East Asian nation.
The country’s first census in 30 years is at risk of being derailed before it has even started, due to the ongoing ethnic tensions.
Ye Htut, a government spokesman, says Rohingya Muslims can call themselves Bengali as they register for the first census in the past 30 years.
“If a household wants to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya’, we will not register it,” Htut told reporters in Yangon on Saturday.
The term ‘Bengali’ is being used by the authorities who view most Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
Extremist Buddhists in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine say they will boycott the census over fears that it could lead to the official recognition of the Rohingyas.
Muslims in parts of the Rakhine state complained that authorities have threatened them with harsh penalties if they identify themselves as Rohingya despite the UN assurances.
The country’s first UN-backed census will last 12 days and is aimed at plugging an information deficit in the former junta-run country.
Meanwhile, a prominent human rights activist has recently said that Myanmar’s government has been behind the ongoing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in the country.
“I do have a strong feeling that there is support behind the scenes by the government,” said Myra Dahgaypaw, the coordinator of the US Campaign for Myanmar, in a Friday interview.
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar account for about five percent of the country’s population of nearly 60 million. They have been persecuted and faced torture, neglect, and repression since the country’s independence in 1948.
Myanmar’s government has been repeatedly criticized for failing to protect the Rohingya Muslims. International bodies and human rights organizations accuse the government of turning a blind eye to the violence.