Activist Naw Ohn Hla Jailed 2 Years for Letpadaung Protest

By Land Rights, Zarni Mann 29 August 2013

MANDALAY — A court in Monywa, Sagaing Division, on Thursday sentenced activist Naw Ohn Hla to two years in prison with hard labor for disturbing public tranquility at a peaceful protest that police broke up with force earlier this month.

“She’s been sentenced under Section 505[b] only, for which she has to serve two years’ imprisonment with hard labor. She still remains to be tried under Section 18,” said Kyu Inn, a township police officer in Monywa.

The trial of Naw Ohn Hla began on Tuesday, with prosecutors charging the female activist with two counts, including violation of Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act for allegedly organizing an unauthorized gathering. Thursday’s verdict under Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code found the activist guilty of “intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”

Naw Ohn Hla’s lawyer denounced the verdict on Thursday.

“I just want to say that sentencing her within two to three days did not provide enough time to defend her. It shouldn’t be like that because the [prosecutors’] charges under 505[b] did not reflect the actions of the accused and it’s become controversial,” her lawyer Robert San Aung said.

Naw Ohn Hla remains in detention at the Monywa prison, where she will await a separate verdict on her alleged violation of the Peaceful Assembly Act. She did not appear in court to hear Thursday’s verdict, with the activist boycotting her own trial because “she does not have faith in the judicial system,” her Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The activist and nine other protesters, all women, were forcibly arrested by police on Aug. 13 near the controversial Letpaduang copper mine, where they were calling for suspension of the mining project. The mining venture has led to frequent demonstrations over the last year by local community members who say they have been forced off their lands by a project that is harming the environment.

“Judging from the fact that the court has sentenced her so quickly, it is very clear that the authorities want her to be in prison,” said Han Win Aung, a colleague of Naw Ohn Hla who has also spoken out in support of farmers near the Letpadaung mine. “I think this was planned from the beginning.”

Naw Ohn Hla is a former member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. She led prayer services for democracy activists hoping for the freedom of Suu Kyi while the NLD chairwoman was under house arrest. Naw Ohn Hla has been imprisoned more than seven times since 1989 for her NLD links and her efforts to free political prisoners and assist Buddhist monks during the 2007 uprising known as the Saffron Revolution.

Earlier this year, she was imprisoned for participating in a protest march in Rangoon, also under charges of violating the Peaceful Assembly Act. She was released from prison in May under a presidential amnesty.

Additional reporting by Irrawaddy reporter Sanay Lin