Activists, Lawyers Condemn Recent Arrest of Nilar Thein

By San Yamin Aung 26 February 2016

RANGOON — Activists have condemned the administration of outgoing president Thein Sein over the recent arrest of 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist Nilar Thein for her role in a protest one year ago in support of students demanding education reform.

Local lawyers and civil society leaders have accused authorities of dredging up old charges against activists under oppressive laws as the government’s term nears its end.

On Wednesday, a leading member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Nilar Thein was arrested by police from Bayinnaung Police Station in Rangoon Division and charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law for allegedly participating in a protest in Rangoon in February last year in solidarity with students demonstrating against the National Education Law.

She made a brief appearance at Mayangone Township Court on Wednesday where she declined to appeal for bail and is being held in Insein Prison.

Frequently used to imprison peaceful activists, Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law prescribes sentences of up to six months for individuals found guilty of participating in an unlawful protest.

Lawyer Robert San Aung said that more than a dozen activists in Rangoon had been detained and charged under Article 18 this year for their participation in protests as far back as 2014.

“They keep arresting and charging activists on old cases which should be closed,” he said. “It looks like they are taking revenge before their term expires and creating a political crisis for the incoming government.”

Nilar Thein’s husband Jimmy, who is also a member of the 88 Generation group, said they will respond against the police warrant, which labels the activist a fugitive, in accordance with the law.

“We are carefully watching as they are arresting activists when the transfer of power is close,” he said.

Lawyer Ko Ni said the authorities were acting “based on grudges.”

“They are targeting activists who pointed out their wrongdoings and arresting many other protesters,” he said.

Burma’s information minister on Friday rejected the assertion that the arrest of activists was politically inspired.

“It is the Myanmar Police Force’s duty to investigate the accused until the case is closed according to their procedures. They will carry this out, not only under U Thein Sein’s government, but also under the NLD government,” he told The Irrawaddy. “It is not related with our transition. They are just fulfilling their tasks according to the law.”

Burma Campaign UK and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) also called for the immediate release of Nilar Thein on Thursday.

“Nilar Thein’s case shows how activists are continuing to get arrested under the repressive laws in Burma. The arrest is unlawful and she should be released immediately,” Wai Hnin, campaigns officer at Burma Campaign UK, said in a press release on Thursday.

There are currently 88 political prisoners behind bars and 412 political activists awaiting trial, according to AAPP.