BURMA: continued prosecution of human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators

November 23, 2013

There was much optimism about developments in Myanmar/Burma after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and the government’s announcement of a process of democratization. But reports from the Asian Human Rights Commission, Front Line Defenders and other NGOs give ground for pessimism. In the words of the AHRC (on 24 September):  “If the government of Myanmar is as serious as it says that it is about political reform, about the release of political prisoners, and about other measures to put its authoritarian legacy behind it, then it needs to begin by bringing to a halt the wanton prosecution of human rights defenders l…It needs to repeal [repressive] laws and above all, it needs to do much more to alter systematically the practices and mentalities of administrators, police officers and other officials accustomed to shutting down any public activity not directly under their control or given their approval. Democratic life is about people acting and talking according to ideas that government officials sometimes will not like. If on every occasion they see or hear something they do not like the authorities in Myanmar respond to it with prosecution, then democratic life in the country will remain a figment.” According to the protesters’ lawyer, Mr Robert San Aung, a total of 57 activists have now been imprisoned under the Peaceful Assembly Law. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners  and 130 activists have been brought to court under this legislation, 18 of whom remain in prison.The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC-UAC-105-2013AHRC-UAC-101-2013AHRC-STM-108-2013) has pointed to the persistent pursuit and prosecution by the police and local authorities in Burma, or Myanmar, of human rights defenders under draconian legislation old and new.  Among recent cases that have come to the attention of the AHRC, at the end of August, Naw Ohn Hla, an activist who has been campaigning against the expansion of the military-backed copper mining operation at the Letpadaung Hills, received a two-year sentence under section 505(b) of the Penal Code–a generic, anti-democratic provision enabling the police to lodge charges against someone for pretty much any undefined public act which they construe as likely to cause alarm. The section was a favourite among police during the years of military rule, and that it continues to be used in the current period of political change is an indictment on the concerned authorities and an illustration of how practices entrenched in institutions throughout decades of military rule continue to circulate freely through those institutions into the current period. Ohn Hla for her part protested against the charge by refusing to cooperate with the court inquiry on the grounds that she was doing no more than exercising democratic rights in organising protests to oppose the mine.

In another case on which the AHRC has obtained detailed documentation, five men and one woman (Zaw Htun, Ko Kyaw Swe, Ko Aung Moe Kyaw a.k.a. Ko Poe Phyu, Ko Win Hlaing, Ko Than Htay Aung, and Ma Gyu Gyu a.k.a. Ma Gyun) were charged under section 18 of the odious Right to Peaceful Assembly and Marching Law 2011. Far from enabling the exercise of rights to assemble and demonstrate the law does precisely the opposite by requiring people to request permission for events from local police stations, who can arbitrarily approve or decline such assemblies as they see fit. The section is quickly becoming notorious as more and more people who are without reason declined permits to rally and then do so nonetheless are prosecuted. In this case, police in Pyay have brought the charges against the six accused for allegedly organising peacefully held rallies in April and May 2012 to call for 24-hour electricity supply. During August, the court also found all of these accused guilty and ordered they pay fines. The accused have objected that, as in Ohn Hla’s case, they were doing no more than exercising their democratic rights, and that they are innocent of any offence.


BURMA: Continued prosecutions of human rights defenders — Asian Human Rights Commission.

Human rights defender Mr Ko Htin Kyaw is currently facing multiple charges as a result of his human rights work. Ko Htin Kyaw is the Director of the MDCF, a community-based organisation working to promote development and democracy in Burma. Since his arrest on 2 August 2013, the human rights defender has been held at Insein Prison in a separate cell. His health has deteriorated as a result of his detention. It is reported that Ko Htin Kyaw has been sent to different courts from Insein Prison nearly every day, since a number of charges have been filed against him. Currently, the human rights defender is facing ten charges for violating Section 18 of the Assembly and Procession Law, which prohibits peaceful assembly without official permission and carries a penalty of one year imprisonment. He is also facing two charges under Section 500 and 505 (b) of the Penal Code for “insulting the state” at North Oakla Township Court for holding a press conference against land grabbing. The penalty under Section 500 and 505 (b) is two years imprisonment each. Other charges are related to his campaign against illegal land seizures. http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/23484%29 .

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - croppedOn 21 November 2013, six peaceful demonstrators were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment in Kyimyindaing Court in Rangoon under Section 18 of the 2011 Peaceful Assembly Law. The charges of “protesting without prior permission” had been brought against human rights defenders  Moe Thway and D Nyein Lin, as well as Ma Thandar, Aung Moe Oo, Myin Kyaw Oo and Soe Moe Tun, for demonstrating in Rangoon on 1 December 2012 against the forceful treatment of peaceful protesters who were camping near the Letpadaung copper mine, in central Burma. In light of D Nyein Lin’s conditional amnesty in 2011, this sentence means that he will now serve the remaining ten years of an earlier sentence.





One Response to “BURMA: continued prosecution of human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators”

  1. […] Front line Defenders reported on 2 August that human rights defender Ko Swe Win was prevented from travelling and detained in connection with defamation charges on 30 July 2017,  at Yangon International Airport as he was trying to fly  to Bangkok. He was reportedly taken into police custody in relation to a defamation case brought by a follower of extremist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, who told the police he believed Ko Swe Win was attempting to flee the country. Despite the defamation lawsuit filed against him, no travel restrictions were issued against Ko Swe Win. The human rights defender was released on bail on 31 July 2017. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/23/burma-continued-prosecution-of-human-rights-defenders-a… […]

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