Balloon-Launching Arakan Army Supporter Sentenced

By Min Aung Khine 27 November 2018

SITTWE—A local court in Rakhine State sentenced a man to two years in prison on Monday for launching a hot air balloon donning a portrait of the chief of the Arakan Army (AA), a Rakhine State-based armed organization denounced by the Myanmar Army as an insurgent group.

U Tun Hla Kyaw, a resident of Leik Ka Maw Village in Kyaukphyu Township, launched the hot air balloon with a picture of the AA’s commander-in-chief Maj-Gen Tun Myat Naing, during the Tazaungdaing Festival in November 2017.

The fire balloon had “Happy Birthday General” written on it and was said to have been launched to celebrate the 39th birthday of the AA chief. Officers of Kyaukphyu Township Police Force arrested U Tun Hla Kyaw soon after the incident and charged him under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act.

“He was sentenced to two years in prison under Article 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. We think this verdict is unfair and have plans to appeal it,” said defense lawyer U Tin Myint.

Section 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for “whoever is a member of an unlawful association, or takes part in meetings of any such association, or contributes or receives or solicits any contribution for the purpose of any such association or in any way assists the operations of any such association.”

The AA was founded in 2009 in Kachin State’s Laiza with the support of the Kachin Independence Army. The AA has said it planned to return to its homeland of Rakhine State since 2014. Since 2015, heavy clashes have occurred between AA and the Myanmar Army on numerous occasions in Shan, Chin and Rakhine states, with the latest one taking place last week.

The AA has widespread support among the Arakanese, despite a crackdown by the Myanmar Army that has seen dozens of people arrested and imprisoned on charges of unlawful association.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.