Arakanese environmental activist and ethnic armed group spokesperson Khaing Myo Htun has appealed charges of defamation and sedition brought against him by the military for a statement alleging Burma Army war crimes in Arakan State.
He has been in police custody since July 25 in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe, and his case is still undergoing trial.
Khaing Myo Htun and his legal team from the NGO EarthRights International requested at a court in Sittwe that the charges be dismissed for breaching both legal process and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
The charges—under sections 505(b) and 505(c) of Burma’s penal code, for sedition and incitement respectively—were made after Lt-Col Tin Naing Tun of Sittwe’s Regional Operations Command filed a complaint on May 5 in response to a statement released by the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) in April. The statement accused the Burma Army of violating the Geneva Conventions by torturing civilians and forcing them to work as porters.
Khaing Myo Htun is deputy spokesperson for the information department of the ALP, which is one of eight ethnic armed groups in Burma that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord in Oct. 2015.
In May, the ALP threatened to pull out of the NCA because of the charges against Khaing Myo Htun, although it has not yet done so. The ALP had provided the Burma Army with 15 audio and video files, which they claimed corroborated the allegations.
An alumni of the EarthRights School for environmental and human rights activists in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Khaing Myo Htun worked for Arakan Oil Watch prior to co-founding the civil society group Natural Resources for the People and joining the board of the Arakan Natural Resources and Environmental Network
Ka Hsaw Wa, executive director of EarthRights, said in a press release on Thursday, “it is easy to forget that we are no longer under a military regime when crimes like these [accusations of torture and forced portering] go uninvestigated and human rights defenders languish in prisons.”
EarthRights said that although the statement released in April bore the clear imprint of the ALP, the military had chosen to go after Khaing Myo Htun personally, seemingly because of his human rights and environmental activism in Arakan State.
Ka Hsaw Wa called on the Burma Army to investigate its soldiers’ alleged involvement in human rights violations and drop the charges against Khaing Myo Htun immediately.
EarthRights noted that the defendant was made to wait for long periods between court hearings, with some being abruptly canceled after prosecution witnesses from the army were declared unavailable.
The organization also claimed that prosecuting the case through the law courts was in breach of the NCA. It noted that the NCA had mechanisms for resolving disputes between parties to the agreement—in this case the Burma Army and the ALP—and for investigating abuses of the kind alleged in the ALP’s statement in April.
“By deciding not to investigate the allegations and resorting to the courts, the army is ignoring its obligations under the NCA and further threatening the peace process,” EarthRights said.