SITTWE, Rakhine State — The Sittwe District Court in Rakhine State on Tuesday sentenced prominent ethnic Arakanese politician U Aye Maung and author Ko Wai Hin Aung to 20 years in prison for encouraging people to support a rebel group.
The two were given 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for defamation of the state to be served concurrently, Ko Wai Hin Aung’s lawyer, Daw Aye Nu Sein, told The Irrawaddy.
The two were arrested and charged in January 2018 over remarks they made at a public event in Rathedaung Township commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom that allegedly expressed and encouraged support for the rebel Arakan Army.
A few days after the event, the Ministry of Home Affairs released a lengthy statement accusing U Aye Maung and Ko Wai Han Aung of having destabilized the community with their remarks.
Daw Aye Nu Sein accused the prosecution of using video footage of their remarks out of context and said the politician and author were merely trying to entertain the crowd.
“Though people were splitting their sides with laughter over their remarks, their quotes were taken out of context. It is against the law,” she said.
The two men were originally charged with high treason, defamation of the state and unlawful association, but the court dismissed the unlawful association charges in September.
“It is against the law to file three separate charges against an individual for a single action, and punishment was handed down for two charges even though one charge was dismissed,” Daw Aye Nu Sein said.
“It is up to Dr. Aye Maung whether or not to appeal,” she added.
Dozens of locals waited for the ruling outside the Sittwe District Court, where tensions between police and supporters of the accused ran high.
“The charges are completely unfair. What can we expect for the future of our country if an author and a lawmaker working for the country are given such punishment,” said U Aung Htay, chairman of the Sittwe chapter of the Arakan National Party.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.