In Person

Rakhine Lawmaker Speaks to The Irrawaddy Moments Before Being Jailed

By Moe Myint 18 January 2018

The government on Thursday arrested a prominent Arakan National Party lawmaker for associating with an unlawful organization after he participated in an event in Rathedaung Township in northern Rakhine State.

At the event hosted by a local charity on Monday to mark the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine Dynasty to the Bamar, Dr. Aye Maung said: “Bamar people consider Rakhine people slaves and don’t give us equal rights,” adding that Rakhine people were being organized in an armed struggle for freedom. He said the movement’s goal was to reclaim Rakhine sovereignty, state media reported on Thursday.

Police arrested Dr. Aye Maung at around 1 p.m. on Thursday at his home in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. Two hours later, at 3 p.m., he was sent to Sittwe prison.

During his police custody, The Irrawaddy was able to talk to him via phone to ask about his arrest, the charges he was accused of and his comments.

Prior to the lawmaker’s arrest, author Wai Hin Aung, who also spoke at the event, was arrested on Monday evening. Police charged him under Section 17 (1), which prohibits unlawful association for the purpose of urging people to participate in armed struggle.

“[Today] is the right time for us to take up armed struggle to gain our independence,” Wai Hin Aung had said, adding that the Arakan Army—an ethnic Rakhine armed group outlawed by the government—is undertaking an armed struggle to reclaim sovereignty for Rakhine State from the government.

Following is a transcript of The Irrawaddy’s interview with Dr. Aye Maung.

Irrawaddy: Hello, Dr. Aye Maung, this is The Irrawaddy. We have learned that you have been detained at the No.1 police station in Sittwe. Could you tell us about the charges against you?

Aye Maung: I have no idea about that at the moment. [Chuckle] I have been sitting here [in the police station] for more than half an hour.

Irrawaddy: So, you are now in police custody. What kind of questions have the police asked you?

Aye Maung: Nothing special. They have just taken the information on my ID card and address, that’s it.

Irrawaddy: Some people are saying that the police are preparing to request a judge’s permission to remand you in custody. Is that right?

Aye Maung: I don’t know. Maybe they are doing it in line with procedures.

Irrawaddy: Do you have any comments regarding the arrest? Especially as it happened under a democratic government.

Aye Maung: Well, this is the very first time [in Myanmar] that a civilian elected legislator is being prosecuted by a civil government. This will not just have a minor impact on the future of the federal democratic union but a much bigger, negative one. But my case aside, the crackdown on the Mrauk-U riot yesterday was very brutal. It will be inked in history forever. In Rakhine, there was a rice riot in 1967 that everyone remembers well until today. Addressing this problem requires deep thought, such as predicting possible scenarios in the future and the consequences. There needs to be consideration of whether the actions will seriously hurt the feelings of future generations. As they are heading toward national reconciliation, they [the Myanmar government] should be looking to share power with others. That is the key problem and it is still unresolved today. We have to analyze how rigorously the military and ethnic [armed] groups have approached the peace dialogue.

And our literature talks were quite different from what was reported in the newspapers. You can find some of those talks [on social media] and we can share our audio files with you. They translated our speech from the Arakanese language to Burmese and so we will make accurate translations of some episodes. Think about it. For example, even a simple sentence does not have a complete meaning. At least three sentences are required to figure out the original meaning. In this case, they just took one sentence and stuck it with the other passages, and it changed the original meaning. It should not be done that way. They need to conclude each passage without manipulating the sentences. We delivered our speech with an intro, body and conclusion and we used terminology that matched the federal context. In that speech, we raised the notion that the country has been struggling to get peace for 70 years and raised the question of how will this be discussed at the 21st Century Panglong Conference and when will they offer equal rights [to the ethnic groups], and if this problem is not resolved here, will it continue to happen in the future? A painful bloodshed has happened. It’s heartbreaking.

This is the very first prosecution by an elected civilian government of a parliamentarian and as far as I know the case is quite big. I have no idea what will happen in the near future. To be honest, if you have hurt someone’s feelings badly, it is very difficult to heal.

Irrawaddy: As you mentioned, the charge is quite serious and various rumors have been spread on social media that you are being charged under the “State Treason Law.” Is that right?

Aye Maung: I have also heard this sort of hearsay, that this will be treated as a state treason case. I am a parliamentarian. Let’s talk about it in Parliament. Even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi mentioned that Parliament and the public must interact so that we can create a prosperous future for the public, especially, on issues like freedom of expression and fundamental rights of citizens. I would not have been a lawmaker if I wanted to rebel against the government.