Burma Activist Naw Ohn Hla Faces ‘Religious Disturbance’ Complaint

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 11 December 2013

RANGOON — Burmese activist Naw Ohn Hla is facing yet another lawsuit, according to her lawyer. This time, the long-time land rights advocate is accused of disturbing religious gatherings while holding prayers for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi back in 2007.

Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced in August to two years in prison for protesting without permission against the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division. On Nov. 15 she was one of 69 political prisoners released by a pardon from President Thein Sein.

But Naw Ohn Hla is in custody again after she was arrested over a Nov. 29 protest against the controversial mining project, at which a Chinese flag was burned outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.

During a hearing in the flag-burning case—in which Naw Ohn Hla faces up to two years in jail—a judge at Dagon Township Court said she still faces a separate lawsuit for organizing prayers in 2007 for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, then under house arrest, according to her lawyer, Robert San Aung.

The lawyer said Naw Ohn Hla was accused at the time by the governing body of Rangoon’s Shwedagon Pagoda of disturbing a religious assembly, a crime, under Article 296 of the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of one year.

“This second case against her was filed by the Shwedagon Pagoda Board of Trustees member U Mang Maung Tint,” he said.

“It happened in 2007. She was praying for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Board of Trustees member accused her of disturbing other people.”

The judge claimed the 2007 case was being brought up again because authorities until now “couldn’t catch” Naw Ohn Hla—a vocal activist and has been repeatedly in trouble with the authorities—Robert San Aung said.

The lawyer said the authorities seemed to be arbitrarily piling up cases against the troublesome activist.

“Now she has been moved to Insein Prison from Dagon Township police custody. She is not in good health,” he said, adding that his client was treated badly in police custody.

“I have a question for the police officers of [Rangoon’s] Western District: Why is it that Naw Ohn Hla’s water supply was cut off during her days in Dagon Township police station? She couldn’t wash her hair, flush the toilet or even wash her face,” the lawyer said.

Min Nay Htoo, a fellow anti-Letpadaung protester, said Naw Ohn Hla was standing trial alongside Tin Htut Paing, a leader of the Generation Youth advocacy group.

The two are charged with Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code, which allows for two years jail time for anyone who “makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumor or report with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against public tranquility.”

Authorities have also said they are looking for two other protesters who they want to charge under Section 505 (b) in relation to the flag burning, according to Min Nay Htoo.

President Thein Sein has pledged to release all political prisoners in Burma by the end of 2013, and another 44 were released on Wednesday. But critics say the law is increasingly being used to imprison land rights activists.