Police detained 20 ethnic rights activists on Friday morning for protesting against the state government’s placement of a statue of independence hero General Aung San in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, according to one of those arrested. They were released on bail later in the day.
The police first asked seven rights activists who led the protest to accompany them to the police station. As they were arriving at the station, police broke up a protest camp set up by the activists on Thursday and made more arrests, the sources said.
After being detained upstairs at a police station due to a lack of space in the local jail, the detainees were released on bail after promising to pay a 1-million-kyat deposit each, according to Khun Thomas, a youth leader who was among those arrested.
They are scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 14, he said.
Earlier in the day, prior to being released on bail, Khun Thomas told The Irrawaddy that police “took [statements] from us at the station and they charged all of us under Article 19.” He explained that the detainees were required to put their names on pre-written forms accusing them of the crime.
Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Act prohibits people from protesting without first obtaining permission from police.
He confirmed that police had shut down the protest camp.
Before closing the protest camp, a group of police and township officials arrived at the site and read out an order informing the activists that they were illegally present in a restricted area. Claiming the site was a public space, not a restricted area, the activists refused to leave. About 50 police arrested the remaining activists at the camp.
The activists said those behind the project were staining the history of Karenni State. They singled out for blame Karenni State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho, National League for Democracy youth members, their “cronies” and certain volunteer associations involved in the project.
Their revolution was not yet over, they said, adding that they had just begun to fight, despite the NLD government’s decision to put up the statue. “We dare to challenge the chief minister of the state. You can put up a statue. But unless you recognize our request, the statue will have no meaning,” Khun Thomas said.
There were many youths in Karenni State, so Friday’s arrests wouldn’t end the struggle, Khun Thomas said, adding that further action would be taken, though he declined to provide details.
Khun Be Du, chairman of the Loikaw-based Kayan National Party, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that arresting activists would not resolve the issue, and predicted there would be more problems soon.
A group of local residents who support the decision to put up a statue of Gen. Aung San said they would stage a pro-statue rally in Loikaw on Saturday.
However, rights activists said they planned to hold another protest against the statue in the town on Feb. 4. They asked the government to negotiate with them, according to Khun Be Du.
“We cannot accept injustice. We must fight it,” Khun Be Du said.
He added that right activists were prepared to confront the government’s supporters on the issue. “It is unfortunate, but we have no option as the state government has created this problem.”
“We asked the chief minister to resign from his position as he could not say how much his government had spent on putting up the statue. We also asked the government to release all 20 rights activists soon. We even asked them to remove the statue from the park and place it in front of the NLD’s office in the town,” he said.