Letpadaung Activist Beaten, Detained, Say Villagers

By Nyein Nyein 12 February 2014

An activist campaigning for farmers affected by the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Division’s Salingyi Township was allegedly beaten and detained without explanation Tuesday.

Fellow activists and villagers said that Thaw Zin, a leader of the Rangoon Student Network, was detained by six plainclothes men at about 10 am. The men stopped Thaw Zin and female villager when they were driving to a field near Taw Kyaung village, but the villager was not detained, they said.

Thaung Htike, another activist helping locals in their long-running campaign against the Chinese-backed mine and land confiscation for the project—told The Irrawaddy that police at nearby Nyaungpingyi police station said Thaw Zin was being sent to Monywa prison.

“We have not had contact with him yet,” Thaung Htike said.

Sandar, a Letpadaung resident, said the men who arrested Thaw Zin were not wearing police uniforms, and also beat him and the female villager, Htay Oo.

“Daw Htay Oo was beaten, including on her face, as she was with Ko Thaw Zin when the six men, not wearing uniforms, detained him,” she said.

Shortly after the arrest, about 100 villagers marched to the Nyaungpingyi police station, calling for the release of the activist, but the authorities declined to explain the arrest. Later, police only confirmed that he had been sent to Monywa prison, she added.

Sandar said both Salingyi and Nyaungpingyi police stations refused to accept a complaint that Htay Oo tried to file over the beating.

In total 10 people are still charged with various sections of the criminal code for protesting against the copper mine project in the area.

The deputy manager of Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings—a military controlled company that is undertaking the mining project with Chinese company Wanbao—sued eight student activists, including Thaw Zin, in April 2013 for their activities supporting demonstrating villagers. Thaung Htike, Han Win Aung, Ko Lat, Aung Soe, Thar Gyi, Ko Thu, Ba Htoo and Thaw Zin, all from Rangoon, were subsequently charged with crimes including trespassing, instigating riots and disturbing officials on duty, according to Thaung Htike.

He said the activists were told by police informally that they were no longer facing charges following an amnesty issued by President Thein Sein on Dec. 31 that dropped many charges relating to protests. Signs posted in Letpadaung villages warning them of imminent arrest had also been taken down, he said.

Last Wednesday, eight villagers were also briefly detained for protesting against fencing being erected for the copper mining project, for which some 7,800 acres of farmland has been confiscated from 26 villages in the Letpadaung mountain range. Work on the project restarted late last year after about a year of suspension due to the widespread opposition in November 2012.