MANDALAY – A district court in Mandalay sentenced four Muslim men to between seven and 15 more years in jail for their alleged links to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), adding to related sentences they received last year.
The four, including well-known local artist U Zaw Min Htwe, were arrested in 2014, accused of working with the KIA to establish an Islamist fighting force.
In 2016, a court in Amarapura Township sentenced U Zaw Min Htwe, U Myint Thein and U A. Ra Mahn to 25 years in prison for incitement, high treason and having contact with an illegal association. At the time, U Khin Maung Shwe was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
On Thursday, facing related charges under the Counter-Terrorism Law, U Zaw Min Htwe, U Myint Thein and U A. Ra Mahn were sentenced to an additional seven years in prison. U Khin Maung Shwe was sentenced to another 15 years.
“We’ve told the court for years that we had no connection with the KIA and had no intention of forming such an army,” said U Zaw Min Htwe. “However, we’ve received several years in prison without concrete evidence of having relations with the KIA or trying of form an army.”
“We think that we were being accused like this because we are Muslims. We hope the president and the government will turn their faces to people like us who are being accused and excessively punished,” he added.
The families of the men said they would appeal the sentences and also ask State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene.
U Zaw Min Htwe’s lawyer, U Thein Than Oo, said there was no evidence to prove the charges against his client.
“Although I have nothing to say about the sentences, I have to point out that there were too many charges against my client, who is only an artist. When he was arrested, no evidence or documents related to the accusations were found,” he said.
“We have to ask if there are two faces to the law depending on who the accused person is. The assassins of lawyer U Ko Ni were arrested with a gun and charged with a few laws while people like my client are charged with several acts,” the lawyer added.
U Ko Ni, a legal adviser to the NLD, was gunned down outside Yangon International Airport on Jan. 29. The gunman, Kyi Lin, was arrested after failing to escape. He and three alleged co-conspirators are on trial for murder.