According to local media reports, fifteen men and four women have been sentenced to 14 years each, and a boy under the age of 15 was handed a seven-year prison term. The court in Taunggyi, eastern Shan State, also handed one of the men an additional five years for an immigration offense.
The group was charged under Articles 5(j) and 5(l) of the country’s 1950 Emergency Provisions Act. While 5(j) is related to undermining national security, 5(l) involves the possession of weapons and taking part in “committing the offences prescribed in the Arms Act.”
Thein Shwe, a lawyer for three of the convicted, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the defendants “were given the maximum sentence even though no one could provide evidence that they have links to terrorists.”
He added, “These sentences are unfair because… the evidence presented, which was based only on a police report, is insufficient to prove them as terrorists. They are just normal people.”
The 20 Muslims have been incarcerated since August last year, when they were arrested while traveling to a wedding ceremony in Kunhein in southern Shan.
Officers claim they found weapons in their car and Myanmar’s national police chief, Win Khaung, was quoted by Radio Free Asia as saying the group had links to an unnamed armed terrorist group and was planning to carry out an act of terrorism.
According to Thein Shwe, his clients had not been armed and showed no signs of affiliation to any militant groups.
“What police seized from them were foods and materials for making Biryani,” he told the Irrawaddy.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has been dealing with religious violence over the last three years as the country emerges from six decades of military rule. Much of the tension has been related to anti-Muslim sentiment that has led to outbreaks of violence nationwide, leaving more than 200 people dead and many thousands displaced.