Arakanese Activist Sentenced to Two Years Hard Labor

By Moe Myint 13 July 2016

RANGOON — Arakanese social activist Maung Aye was sentenced to two years hard labor in a Kyaukphyu courthouse on Wednesday for suspected links to the Arakan Army (AA), according to his lawyer, Tin Myint.

Maung Aye, who is also the chair of the Kyaukpyu Rural Development Association in Arakan State, was originally arrested by the Kyaukphyu-based Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs, better known by its Burmese acronym, Sa Ya Pa. He was taken from his house in Leik Kha Maw village along with other two men, Htun Tha Phyu and Zaw Win Maung, and detained for over five months in a Kyaukphyu cell.

Sa Ya Pa pressed charges under Burma’s Unlawful Association Act, Section 17(1), a statute created during British rule which has since been used to prosecute members or suspected members of ethnic armed groups.

During Wednesday’s sentencing, Htun Tha Phyu and Zaw Win Maung were handed jail terms of three years each, after both identified themselves in front of Judge Nant Tha Nwe Nwe Win as AA soldiers, reporting their batch number within the organization and their station in northern Arakan State.

“Aye Maung’s plea [to the judge] was that he did not know them as AA soldiers. He is a social activist. That’s why he was helping them find jobs,” said Tin Myint, who added that he is preparing an appeal on Maung Aye’s behalf.

In recent months, dozens of residents have been detained by local authorities in Taungup, Kyauktaw, Mrauk U and Sittwe townships after being suspected of having ties to the AA, an armed group which formed in 2009 and has been excluded by Burma’s military from engaging in the country’s peace process unless it disarms.

The Irrawaddy contacted the Arakan State Police Department in the capital of Sittwe on Wednesday to learn more about these arrests, but police Maj Aung Win Sein declined to comment on the situation.

“We can’t give [information] to you, because we don’t know [about them] exactly,” he said, explaining that these were local cases and concerned the police in each township.

Police in Kyauktaw claim that 38 people have been imprisoned in different locations for reportedly violating the Unlawful Association Act; The Irrawaddy asked a police official whether these individuals had all acknowledged ties to the AA in court.

“I’m not sure whether they admitted to being in the AA or not,” he said, “but the judge has already punished them.”

The penalties imposed on individuals charged under Section 17(1) in Arakan State have varied; those convicted of being low ranking members of the AA are typically jailed for three years, while those charged as high ranking officials are reportedly sentenced to prison terms of five years and charged under an additional Section 17(2) statute.

As of June, more than 2,000 people displaced by fighting between the AA and the Burma Army in Arakan State have sought shelter in temporary camps in Kyauktaw, Ponnegyun, Rathedaung and Mrauk U townships.