3 Activists Sentenced to 4 Months for Prayer in Central Burma

By Zarni Mann 10 July 2015

MANADALAY — Three activists have been sentenced to four months in prison for holding a prayer session in support of student demonstrations earlier this year, the latest in a string of convictions for violating Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly Law.

Myint Myint Aye, 57, Khin May Si, 65, and May Thet Oo, 54, were founding guilty of holding an assembly without permission by the Meikhtila Township Court on Friday, a breach of Article 18 punishable with up to six months in prison.

“They said they were just praying but they held placards while walking to the pagoda, which was performed like a public rally and requires a permit,” said township court Justice Maung Lwin. “Since they held a public assembly, I’ve decided on my own decision that they should serve four months in prison.”

In early May of this year, solidarity prayers and marches sprung up in several parts of Burma in support of a grassroots student movement protesting a new National Education Law. The events were largely premised on urging the government not to use violence to disperse a core column of student activists sequestered outside a monastery in central Burma’s Letpadan.

On May 3, the three women sentenced on Friday—who members of the Social Assistance Network, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, respectively—were joined by other activists to pray for the safety of the students. Shortly thereafter, the Meikhtila Police Superintendent brought the charges against the trio.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the heavily guarded courthouse on Friday, but none were allowed in to hear the court’s ruling.

Khin May Si, the NLD member, addressed the crowd just after the decision as she was leaving the courthouse en route to her cell.

“We were just praying peacefully at the pagoda and they say we are guilty,” she said. “We’re disappointed that we have no freedom to worship and o pray, so we would like to urge everyone not to worship at the pagoda or you will be jailed.”

Speaking briefly with The Irrawaddy just before her transport, Myint Myint Aye called the decision “unfair.”

“The authorities fear the students and the activists, so they put everyone behind bars,” she said. “Arrests, lawsuits and unfair sentences against the students, activists, even farmers, they show that the authorities fear everyone—especially activists—for their participation in the upcoming elections.”

The three women were immediately transported to Meikhtila Prison to carry out their sentences. Their lawyer, Han Su Yin, said they plan to appeal at a district-level court.

“We thought they would just be fined, but sentencing them to prison is too much; all of them are old enough that they shouldn’t be behind bars,” Han Su Yin said.

Myint Myint is already serving a two month sentence on unrelated charges of trespassing, which were brought against her during a land rights demonstration.