Activist Naw Ohn Hla Boycotts Letpadaung Trial, Cites Judicial Failings

By Zarni Mann 28 August 2013

Detained activist Naw Ohn Hla told a court this week in Monywa, Sagaing Division, that she would not attend future trial proceedings, citing her belief that the country’s justice system was broken.

The township court in Monywa on Tuesday charged Naw Ohn Hla and nine other farmers from the Letpadaung mining area with organizing an unauthorized gathering, which falls under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act. Naw Ohn Hla will also be charged with inciting unrest, Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code

“She told the court that she will not come to the court in future because she does not have faith in the judicial system,” her lawyer, Robert San Aung, told The Irrawaddy. “‘Let them charge whatever they want. I’m not afraid and ready to face any obstacle,’ she told me.”

“There was a dispute at the court as the police tried to handcuff her. According to the law, women need not be handcuffed while they are present in court,” he added.

The accused protestors, all women, were forcibly dragged into waiting police vehicles and detained by authorities near the controversial Letpaduang copper mine area, where they were calling for the suspension of the mining project two weeks ago. The mining venture has led to frequent protests over the last year by members of local communities who say they have been forced off their lands by a project that is harming the environment.

According to Naw Ohn Hla’s lawyer, a request for permission to protest in the area was submitted to the local authority in Letpadaung more than five times, but government approval was not granted.

Naw Ohn Hla will be tried on the two counts, while the nine other women are accused of violating Section 18 only.

“I don’t want to say much about Section 18, because the authorities are so used to using this section to prevent the people from freedom of speech, but charging Naw Ohn Hla with Section 505 does not reflect the actions of the accused,” Robert San Aung said.

Meanwhile, at the Nattalin Township Court in Pegu Division, three activists involved in social networking groups are facing trial on charges of violating the Unlawful Association Act, which requires social organizations to register with the government.

“Actually, we are not an organization but a network,” Myint Myint Aye told the court on Tuesday. “Charging us with the unlawful organization act shows that there is no rule of law in the country yet. We want high-ranking officials and parliamentarians who are discussing the rule of law in Parliament to know what is happening here and all over the country.”

Myint Myint Aye, Khin Mi Mi Khine and Thant Zin Htet from the Nattalin Social Network and Meikhtila Social Network were detained in June after visiting the village of Pae Ma Khan in Pegu Division’s Nattalin Township. The three activists made the visit to show solidarity with farmers there whose land was seized nearly 20 years ago by the Burma Army and local law enforcement.