Activist Racks Up 10 Years in Prison for Rangoon Protests

By Zarni Mann 5 September 2014

RANGOON — Nearly a dozen separate courts in Rangoon have cumulatively sentenced democracy activist Htin Kyaw to a decade in prison with hard labor under controversial laws on peaceful assemblies and incitement.

A court in Rangoon’s South Okkalapa Township on Wednesday added eight months’ imprisonment to the nine years and four months that the activist was already sentenced to for several demonstrations he has participated in this year.

Htin Kyaw, a leader from the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF), has staged a series of protests this year against President Thein Sein’s government, most of them related to land rights in Rangoon. He has been behind bars since May and was sentenced or has charges pending in 11 different Rangoon jurisdictions, including the townships of South Okkalapa, North Okkalapa, North Dagon, Shwe Pyi Thar, Mayangone, Bahan and Kyauktada.

All of the charges have been under the Penal Code’s Section 505(b), on disturbing public order, or the Peaceful Assembly Law, which threatens prison terms to those who fail to gain government permission prior to staging a protest.

“Actually, Ko Htin Kyaw is criticizing the government for their undemocratic ways, in which they treat the people unfairly. By sentencing Ko Htin Kyaw to that much, the government is showing that they do not want to be criticized and are not practicing democracy properly,” said Thein Aung Myint, the MDCF’s coordinator for Upper Burma.

“Each sentence from the separate courts is not a big deal. But in total, they have become a lot and now Ko Htin Kyaw is facing more than nine years’ imprisonment. Although the government is saying they are a democratic government, sentencing political activists to this much amounts to a defamation of themselves,” he added.

Htin Kyaw is not a newcomer to prison terms for political activism. He was a solo protester in 2007, urging the then military government to rethink a fuel price hike at the time, when he was arrested on the spot and sentenced to 12 years and six months’ imprisonment. He was released early under one of several amnesties granted by the Thein Sein government, which took power in 2011.

In 2013, he was arrested again and was sentenced to six months in prison after he led a land rights protest in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township. He once again benefited from a presidential amnesty after serving two-thirds of that sentence.

Htin Kyaw is currently being held at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison. He is due to face three more trials at different courts in Rangoon, with the next one at a court in Shwe Pyi Thar Township on Sept. 11. He is facing a minimum of one additional year in prison if found guilty.