Rangoon Court Fines Kachin Activists for Peace Protest

By San Yamin Aung 26 November 2013

RANGOON — A court in Rangoon’s Sanchaung Township gave two Kachin activists 20,000 kyat ($20) fines on Tuesday for leading an International Peace Day event last year, under a statute prohibiting unauthorized demonstrations that continues to rile human rights and free speech campaigners.

Under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, more than 100 organizers of demonstrations are facing trial and a total of 57 activists have been jailed since the law’s enactment in December 2011, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Kachin Peace Network coordinators Maran Jaw Gun and May Sabe Phyu were given fines of 10,000 kyats for the townships of Sanchaung and Dagon each for leading an unauthorized march that passed through Dagon, Sanchaung, Tamwe, Mingalar Taung Nyunt, Botataung and Pazun Taung townships on International Peace Day, commemorated on Sept. 21, 2012.

The two activists will still stand trial in Botataung Township for charges filed by another four townships. That trial, scheduled for Dec. 5, will see seven other activists also charged for the 2012 demonstration.

“The court sentenced us to jail one month for each township or to pay a 10,000 kyats fine for each township. We don’t want to pay the fines, but our lawyers advised us to because if we are in jail it will be very difficult to appeal, so it is better to pay the fine now and we will appeal up to a higher court,” May Sabe Phyu said after leaving the courthouse, adding that their payment of the fines was not an admission that their actions were wrong.

Maran Jaw Gun said that the activists had originally arranged to make a trip to Naypyidaw for International Peace Day 2012, where they planned to voice their opposition to the ongoing war in Kachin State between government forces and ethnic Kachin rebels.

“We cancelled this trip because the police chief of Rangoon’s Western District pressured us, saying if we went to Naypyidaw, they would take action,” he said.

Khon Ja of the Kachin Peace Network told The Irrawaddy that although a permit to demonstrate on International Peace Day 2012 had been applied for a month in advance, they did not receive permission.

“Article 18 is supposed to be applied in the interest of protestors’ security by requiring authorized demonstrations, but this is now just a crackdown on demonstrations. It should be implemented democratically, but now it is implemented dictatorially. If we are not allowed freedom of expression, this kind of law should not be present and we should object,” she said.

“Until we remove Article 18, the unfair sentences and charges like this will continue to happen. So Article 18 should be abolished fast,” said May Sabe Phyu.

Khon Ja said it was believed that the delivery of Tuesday’s verdict, originally scheduled for Nov. 19, was postponed due to the visit of the Kachin Independence Army’s deputy chief of staff, Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, to Rangoon last week.

The continued prosecution of activists under Article 18 has been condemned by human rights groups and foreign governments.

“We have been following these cases with concern. One of the most important priorities must be to amend this legislation so as to ensure that it is in line with international human rights standards,” Joe Fisher, second secretary of the British Embassy in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

“We urge the Parliament and the government to work to amend this legislation,” he said.