© Saurabh Das, Jun. 2012, Rohingya muslim men cry when forced to take the ship to be returned to Myanmar near a border checkpoint in Taknaf / Bangladesh

Over the past year, Myanmar’s government has ended its heavy censorship, allowing citizens unfettered access to a wide variety of Web sites that had been banned during military rule. When the government first began dismantling its Internet controls in August, visits to sites like YouTube soared.

But as the poverty-stricken country of 55 million makes a delicate transition to democracy, hateful comments are also flourishing online about a Muslim ethnic group, the Rohingya, that is embroiled in sectarian clashes in western Myanmar.

“The lid of authoritarianism has come off, and people finally have the freedom to express themselves,” said U Aung Naing Oo, the author of ‘Dialogue,’ a book about conflict resolution in Myanmar’s fractious society. “All these grievances have come out,” and “the voices of reason are on the sidelines for now.”

The Rohingya are stateless and are described by the United Nations as one of the most oppressed minorities in Asia. A United Nations report published in December described the Rohingya as “virtually friendless” among other ethnic groups in Myanmar. The source of the hatred toward the Rohingya is complex but appears to turn on religion, language, colonial resentment, nationalism and skin color. (read more)

The violence initially broke out in June following the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman and the subsequent lynching of 10 Muslims by a crowd of angry Buddhists. New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused Myanmar forces of opening fire on Rohingya, as well as committing rape and standing by as rival mobs attacked each other.

Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless and they are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Myanmar’s government considers the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and view them with hostility. (read more)