5 convicted for fake rape claim that sparked Myanmar riot

YANGON - Five people have each been been jailed for 21 years for spreading false allegations that sparked a deadly religious riot in the Myanmar city of Mandalay last year, a lawyer said Saturday.

The southeast Asian nation's second biggest city was plunged into deadly sectarian unrest in July when a rumour that a Buddhist woman had been raped by a Muslim man brought mobs out onto the streets.

At least one Muslim and one Buddhist man were killed in two days of violence which exposed deep religious tensions in the Buddhist-majority nation as it emerges from decades of military rule.

A court in Pyinmama town, central Myanmar, sentenced five people on Wednesday for spreading rumours and creating panic, a lawyer who represents two of those convicted told AFP.

"They each have 21-year prison sentences. I'm going to appeal for my two clients within a month," lawyer Aung Thurein Tun said.

One of those convicted was a woman who the authorities said was paid to make up the rape allegation against a Muslim tea shop owner.

Inter-communal violence has overshadowed widely praised political reforms since erupting in 2012.

The unrest has largely targeted Muslims, leaving at least 250 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Sectarian clashes have been particularly acute in western Rakhine state, with communal fighting that has displaced about 140,000 people, mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims.

Radical monks have been accused of stoking religious tensions with fiery warnings that Buddhism is under threat from Islam.