By Jamila Hanan
January 7, 2017
This is Mamedullah, age 27. His full name is Muhammed Ullah but his friends and family call him Mamedullah for short. He is one of the few Rohingya to gain himself an education in his village in Maung Gyi Taung in Buthidaung township, against all the odds. He studied physics for three years at Sittwe University, graduating with a Physics Major degree in 2012.
After he had earned his degree, he worked as a volunteer teacher for the community, for which he was much respected. Then he opened a little shop in Myoma market in Buthidaung. The photo of him here was taken at his shop.
I spoke to one of his old university friends to find out what he is like as a person. This is what he told me:
“He is of usual size, about 5 feet tall. Not rich and an average kind of person. He doesn’t wear fancy clothes, he lives a simple life. He is very cool and calm with his manners. He is liked by everyone and
his friends admire him for his way of communicating with people and for the work he did as a teacher.
He was the same in university as he is here in the village, he never changed. He used to wear longyis and long sleeves or half sleeves, never trousers. When travelling to university he was careful not to sit next to a girl in the car. He just used to hang out with his friends.
I swear I never saw him argue with anybody. He used to tease his friends a little; he was a happy person. Overall, he was a very normal guy. Everything about him is so normal. He never seemed to desire big things or comforts, he was content with life.”
On 4th January, all that would change. At 2am in the morning soldiers and police besieged his village and made an announcement by loud speaker for someone from every household to report to the school in the morning. At 6 am, Mamedullah went with his elderly father to the school. They knew that they were at risk of torture, as had happened in other villages before, but they didn’t want any punishment to come down on their family so they followed orders.
At the school, the military began to beat Mamedullah’s father, Mamed Ameen. Mahmedullah could not bear to see his father hurt in that way so he called on the troops to leave his father alone and to beat him instead, so the military beat Mamedullah as well. They beat him until he was in a serious condition, and then they arrested him and took him away along with some other innocent young men.
The President’s Office posted a photo of Mamedullah later that day, with 3 other men that they had arrested at that time to Facebook, accusing them of storing home -made guns on a betel farm:
Mamedullah’s friend told me, “He was targeted just because he is one of the few people who is educated in his village. I know everything about him. He is a very normal personal person. No criminal record. I was crying when I saw the government describing him as a militant”.
Other researchers I spoke to said the same thing: that all the villagers say there were no guns. Many people have a small betel farm for some extra income, like gardening around their homes, but farming was not his line of work, his main income was from his little shop.
And regarding the other men that were arrested with him:
“It is crystal clear they are innocents. This is a completely fake story the government created just to continue their oppression on the Rohingya. The people in the picture posted on the President’s Office
website, labelling them as militants, are just very normal people who make their living through daily labour. It saddens all of us to see this kind of cruelty from our government. It is completely shameless.
We never predicted they would try to drag Buthidaung people into this [clearance operation]. People from Buthidaung did nothing against the government in 2012 and in October 2016, although they were scattered, tortured, arrested and extorted. These are unbearable actions of our government. It seems like they want to do something to the people in Buthidaung as well as Maungdaw, but people here don’t have a border to run and cross to save their lives. Here it is surrounded by mountains on every side. There are many military regiments and BGP battalions around. How shameless is this government showing their power against some of the poorest and most helpless people?”
Later we received disturbing news, Mamedullah had been spotted in hospital. A close friend of the man I was talking to had been to visit a relative who was admitted to Buthidaung Government Hospital. Whilst there, at around 2.30pm on the 5th January, he saw Mamedullah and the other arrestees in the hospital:
“He saw blood dripping from Mamedullah’s head and legs with his own eyes. They were extremely beaten and tortured. The eye witness said even while the doctor was giving treatment, BGP [Border Guard Police] pointed and put their guns on those four men’s heads. Their legs and hands were bound with iron chain. Even though their eyes were open they couldn’t recognise that they were in hospital or what the doctor was doing to them."
The witness says that treatment was administered for approximately 30 minutes before they were taken away by the Border Guard Police.
Whilst writing up this story, we heard the rumour Mamedullah may have died in custody. His friend said to me:
“Oh Allah…I pray that’s not true. Please, he was a very simple innocent person. It will be unfair if anything happens to him. The world must stand with us. He is as innocent as a new born baby”
On further verification, we think this news was a mistake, as none of our contacts have heard the same. We are now hopeful that he is still alive and that both Mamedullah and the other innocent men arrested with him will now be released with immediate effect.