A court in Myanmar sentenced seven Muslims — one of them a minor — to terms ranging from two years to life in prison on Tuesday for the killing of a Buddhist monk during communal violence that is posing a serious challenge to President Thein Sein’s reformist government.

While the violence is contained for now, questions are arising over whether minority Muslims can find justice in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar. No Buddhists have faced serious charges, despite atrocities carried out against the Muslim community.

The defendants were accused of involvement in Muslim-Buddhist conflicts that began March 20 in the town of Meikhtila.

Thein Than Oo, a lawyer defending the men, said one of his clients was given life in prison for murder. He was also sentenced to an additional two years for unlawful assembly and two for religious disrespect. A dispute at a Muslim-owned gold shop in Meikhtila triggered rioting by Buddhists and small-scale retaliation by their Muslim targets. Over several days at least 43 people were killed and 12,000 displaced, most of the victims being Muslims. The unrest later spread to other parts of central Myanmar.

The lynching of a Buddhist monk after the gold shop was sacked inflamed passions, leading to large-scale violence against Muslims.

Thein Sein’s administration has been heavily criticised for not doing enough to protect Muslims or stop the violence from spreading since it began with clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in the west last year.

The communal violence in Myanmar that flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state has morphed into a campaign against the country’s Muslim community in other regions. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes have razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds dead and forcing 125,000 people, mostly Muslims, to flee. — AP