Thirteen peace activists in Burma have been charged by police and could face jail time for leading marches to mark the UN’s International Peace Day without official permission.
The protest leaders have been charged under Article 18 of of the Assembly and Procession bylaw for staging a public gathering without official permission. Nine of the 13 were involved in Friday’s peaceful demonstration in Rangoon where up to 500 people marched from the City Hall to Inya Lake to protest the ongoing civil conflicts in Kachin State and other ethnic areas.
Four other activists were similarly charged for organizing an unauthorized protest in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. Marches were also held in Mandalay, Moulmein and other townships across the country, though no reports have surfaced of charges being brought against protesters.
The nine activists in Rangoon say they are astonished at the charges—they reportedly face trial and a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and 30,000 kyat (US $35) fine. However, as they are being charged on 10 accounts of breaking Article 18—due to the fact that they allegedly broke the law in each of the 10 townships that the demonstration passed through—they appear to be facing a maximum sentence of 10 years.
All nine activists have been ordered by each of the 10 township police stations to sign a pledge guaranteeing that they will appear before a judge if called upon.
One alleged organizer, Jaw Gum, from the Kachin Peace Network, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that he and fellow activist May Sapae Phyu have spent all day going from one police station to another signing police documents relating to their charges.
Speaking from Pazundaung Township police station on Monday afternoon, he said, “We have been to see the police chiefs of Sanchaung, Botahtaung and Tamwe townships [all in central Rangoon], and were told that we are being charged under Article 18 in each township.”
On Friday evening, Rangoon’s chief of police Myint Htwe told reporters at a press conference that, following the march to Inya Lake, those who led the protest will be charged with breaking Article 18 of the Assembly and Procession bylaw enacted in July.
One of the more prominent activists that was charged, Nay Myo Zin, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member and social worker who was formerly a political prisoner, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that he was obliged to sign pledges on Sunday at five police stations: Pazundaung, Botahtaung, Tamwe, Kyauktada and Mingalar Taung Nyunt townships.
The other activists charged in Rangoon were named as: Moe Thway, Khin Sandar Nyunt, Phway Yu Mon, Kyaw Bo Bo, Win Co and Wai Lu. The six said they were called on by police to sign pledges at 10 police stations: Kyauktada, Botahtaung, Tamwe, Pazundaung, Bahan, Sanchaung, Kyimyintai, Mingalar Taung Nyunt, Kamaryut and Hlaing townships, all in the central district of Rangoon.
Three of the other four activists who have been charged—named as Nay Myo, Bo Bo Han and Maung Maung of the 88 Generation Students group in Shan State—have been detained in Taunggyi at an unknown location since Friday, an 88 Generation spokesman, Zaw Min, told The Irrawaddy.
A fourth activist, Aung Thu, an NLD member in Taunggyi, told The Irrawaddy that he too had been similarly charged with breaking Article 18 as one of the organizers of the Taunggyi protest, however he had not been detained like the other 88 Generation students activists in Taunggyi.
Irrawaddy reporter Kyal Pyar contributed to this article.