Charges Against Aung San Statue Protesters Dropped, But Dispute Lingers

By Zue Zue 20 February 2019

YANGON — The Kayah State government has dropped its lawsuits against all 55 people charged over the past year for protesting against the installation of a statue of late independence hero Gen. Aung San in Loikaw, the state capital.

Khun A Than, a member of the Karenni Youth Force, a local civil society group, said the Demoso Township Court on Friday dropped its cases against those charged under Section 505 (b) and (c) of the Penal Code for defamation. He said on Wednesday the Loikaw Township Court dropped its cases against those charged under Section 19 and 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law.

The charges were dropped thanks to an agreement the protest leaders and state government reached on Feb. 12, following mass protests in Loikaw against the statue over the previous weeks.

“We don’t need to give thanks for the charges being dropped. The youth didn’t do anything they should be charged for. They were charged unnecessarily by the state government, which wants to oppress them,” Khun A Than said.

He said the government dropped the charges not because of its good will but because of public pressure.

“Dropping the cases is just a part of it. The root cause of this is the forced installation of the statue against the will of the people, despite the opposition of the people. What is important is how we solve the root cause of the problem,” he added.

Since February 2018, authorities had opened 86 cases against 55 people for protesting against plans for the statue and its eventual installation on Jan. 31.

Protesters say hundreds of people also rallied in support of the statue on Feb. 2 and that several members of the ruling National League for Democracy attended, including Kayah State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho.

On Feb. 12 the government and protest leaders agreed not to hold any more rallies either for or against the statue for a month while the protest leaders hold negotiations with the committee behind the project.

The two sides met on Sunday but have yet to settle their differences.

“It can be said that the talks failed. But since we have agreed to a one-month negotiation period, we will wait and see if the state government takes responsibility before Mar. 12. If not, there will be fresh protests; I don’t know,” said Khun A Than, who joined Sunday’s meeting.

U Win Aung, a member of the statue committee, said the bronze likes of the general on horseback could not be removed because it was built in part with public funds. But he added that the committee was open to more talks with the protesters.

The protesters want the statue removed and accuse the government of breaking a promise the chief minister made in July not to erect it without public approval.

The previous month, L Phaung Sho had announced plans to install and unveil the statue on July 19 to mark Martyrs Day, which commemorates the 1947 assassination of Gen. Aung San and his cabinet members. But the government shelved those plans in the face of strong opposition from locals and transferred to project to the statue committee.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.