Activists Get 4-Plus Years for Embassy Protest of Letpadaung Killing

By Nobel Zaw 15 May 2015

RANGOON — Six activists who attempted to protest at the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon over a deadly police crackdown at the Letpadaung copper mine were sentenced on Friday to four years and four months in prison.

Their lawyer Robert San Aung confirmed that the heavy sentences were handed down by the Dagon Township Court to three male activists—Nay Myo Zin, Tin Htut Paing and Than Swe—and three female activists—Naw Ohn Hla, Sein Htwe and San San Win, also known as Lay Lay.

The sentences are the aggregate punishment for guilty verdicts on four different charges related to a demonstration on Dec. 29 in Rangoon against the Chinese firm Wanbao’s copper mining project in Sagaing Division.

The activists received sentences of one year for the Penal Code’s Article 147, which covers rioting; one year for Article 353, pertaining to assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his or her duty; and two years under Article 505(b), for making statements causing undue public fear or alarm.

The additional four months were tacked on for violating Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which states that activists need government permission to hold a protest. Organizing a protest without permission can result in a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.

Robert San Aung said the defendants would not appeal the verdict.

“They don’t have a desire to appeal and they don’t trust in the appeals process,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that the judge’s decision to mete out the maximum sentence for Article 505(b) was particularly harsh.

Nearly 100 people participated in a march to the Chinese Embassy on Dec. 29. Protestors had intended to lay wreathes in front of the embassy as a tribute to Khin Win, a woman in her 50s who was shot dead by police during a protest on Dec. 22 that turned violent at Letpadaung, where the mine is deeply unpopular with locals. Police blockaded the marchers before they could reach the Chinese mission, and the two sides clashed after protesters attempted to breach the barricades.

Several of the defendants, who were arrested in the days following the march, have done time previously for their activism.

Naw Ohn Hla is a prominent advocate for land rights and political prisoners, and her group Democracy and Peace Women Network (DPWN) was winner of an N-Peace award last year. She was sentenced to two years in prison in 2013 for her participation in a Letpadaung mine protest, but only served four months thanks to a presidential pardon.

Retired Burma Army Capt. Nay Myo Zin is also a well-known activist who has the dubious distinction of being the first dissident jailed on political charges under President Thein Sein’s government. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2011, but was released as part of a presidential amnesty in 2012.

They are the latest to join, or return to, the growing ranks of political prisoners in Burma. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which tracks the matter, said on Tuesday that there were 157 political prisoners incarcerated in Burma, with 453 activists awaiting trial for political actions.

Additional reporting by Thu Zar.