RANGOON — Labor rights activist Su Su Nway was arrested on Thursday on charges of trespassing in relation to her support for farmers claiming their lands had been seized by the military.
The well-known rights advocate and former political prisoner was apprehended by police in Inn Da Kaw Township, Pegu Division, according to her husband Kyaw Kyaw Htwe.
Kyaw Kyaw Htwe, himself an activist associated with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, said his wife had been involved in the land grab case since 2013 and had not faced legal action or harassment until late last year, when authorities warned her not to enter the disputed property as it belonged to the military.
Villagers claimed that more than 1,000 acres of their farmlands had been unfairly acquired under the former military regime. Su Su Nway went to the area several times to examine their claims and liaise with authorities on their behalf.
In early June, police in Inn Da Kaw informed Su Su Nway that a trespassing case had been opened against her by Captain Hein Zaw and summoned her for a court hearing, according to her husband. Su Su Nway did not appear for the hearing, and on Thursday she was taken into custody.
Kyaw Kyaw Htwe said his wife was on a commuter bus from Pegu’s Nyaung Lay Pin Township when about 30 police officers stopped the vehicle and ordered the driver to reroute to the police station with all of the other passengers on board.
She was then transported to Pegu Prison, charged with criminal trespassing under Article 447 of Burma’s Penal Code and forewent a request for bail.
Su Su Nway has long been a prominent voice for labor rights in Burma. She has been imprisoned several times in relation to her activism, and was last released during an amnesty in 2011.
Now serving as head of the Myanmar Farmers Union, the activist is perhaps best known for launching a landmark case against local officials that forced her and other residents to work on a road construction project. The lawsuit ultimately landed several officials in prison, though she was shortly after sued for defamation and harassment.
Kyaw Kyaw Htwe suggested that the new charges against her could have been politically motivated, as she is a recognizable pro-democracy figure.
“She has been [working on this case] for almost three years, but there was never any obstacle,” he said. “To sue her only now is to intentionally weaken the pro-democracy force as the 2015 election nears.”
Trespassing carries a maximum sentence of three months in prison. Su Su Nway’s trial will begin on July 29.