BANGLADESH , JUNE 05,
The last time Mohammed Hashim saw his brother alive, he begged for his life, his arms bound behind his back as soldiers marched the 35-year-old teacher away.
It was Aug. 26, the day after Rohingya Muslim separatist attacks on military outposts in the group’s homeland in western Myanmar. In their wake, Myanmar’s military and local Buddhists would respond with a campaign of rape, massacre and arson that has driven about 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.
But more than a dozen teachers, elders and religious leaders told AP that educated Rohingya were already subject to systematic and widespread harassment,
Soldiers targeted the educated so there would be no community leaders left willing to speak up against the pervasive abuse.
It’s an old tactic, according to those who study genocide and often a precursor to killing.
“My brother apologized and pleaded with the military not to kill him; he showed them his ID card and said, ‘I’m a teacher, I’m a teacher.’ But the government had planned to kill our educated people, including my brother,” Hashim said.
After the Aug. 25 attacks, soldiers in Maung Nu village, the site of a massacre, asked villagers- “Where are the teachers?”
Rahim, a 26-year old high school science and math teacher who was known to many soldiers because he taught their children at the local battalion school, saw the military coming and fled.
“I knew I was dead if I got caught. They were hunting me,” said Rahim,
Interviews with about 65 refugees in a September report by the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner indicate that “the Myanmar security forces targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”
The Buddhist majority has long reviled the Rohingya as “Bengali interlopers” in northern Rakhine state and suppressed their ability to maintain their culture and go to school.
In the months before Aug. 25, informers made it too dangerous to teach Rohingya language or culture, even in secret.
Four days before the Aug. 25 violence, he says about 300 soldiers surrounded his home. He was handcuffed with his son and brought to the school, where they saw other teachers and five mullahs. His son was kicked and beaten.
The headmaster fled to Bangladesh soon after the August killing began.
“There are some educated people left in my village, but they will never raise their voices,” he said, as another man wept silently, listening to him speak. “Things will get worse for the Rohingya because no one will speak out for them.”
The penalty for standing up to authority can be harsh.
Months before the August crackdown, the military called a meeting in the village of Chein Kar Li to demand more money from villagers who wanted to fish the local rivers.
The retaliation began immediately. He said he was fined and made to go every morning to a military camp and sign a piece of paper, so the soldiers could monitor his actions. They searched his home and threatened him with jail.
Others interviewed also described repression. They said the government monitored teachers, mullahs and other educated people, claiming they were working with outsiders to collect and send abroad information about human rights abuses meant to make Myanmar look bad.