Detained Laborers Sentenced for Contempt of Court

By Zarni Mann 13 July 2016

MANDALAY — A Court in Tatkon Township of Naypyidaw Union Territory has sentenced detained labor demonstrators and student activists on Wednesday with a one-month imprisonment or a 5,000 kyats (US$4.20) fine for contempt of court.

Fifteen laborers and students—who were arrested in Takton Township in May for staging a march from an industrial zone in Sagaing Division to Naypyidaw to meet the president—refused to respond during the previous court hearings, prompting the contempt charges.

The laborers and student activists said they would choose imprisonment over paying the small fine.

“We don’t believe in the judiciary so we didn’t hire a lawyer or listen to the court. If they want us to go to prison, let that be,” said Hnin Aung, one of the labor demonstrators.

The workers and students are currently facing suits under articles 143, 145 and 157 of Burma’s penal code, for participating in an unlawful assembly, disobeying police and disturbing public order. The next court hearing will be on July 27.

About 100 workers from a plywood factory in the Sagaing Industrial Zone marched to the capital Naypyidaw in late April, following failed negotiations with Myanmar Veneer Plywood Private Ltd. over the dismissal of more than 100 factory employees in February. They hoped to meet President Htin Kyaw, whom they hoped would provide them redress.

They were arrested just outside of the city of Naypyidaw on May 18. Twenty-three of them were handed over to police and administrators in Sagaing Division, and later released.

The rest, including student activists who came to support them in their march, were jailed in Yamethin Township in Mandalay Division, because there was insufficient space to detain them all in Naypyidaw’s Tatkon Township. Fifty-one were eventually charged.

The jailed laborers and the students say that many of them have suffered from influenza and diarrhea, with inadequate medical treatment on hand.

“There are doctors and a prison clinic, but the doctors can’t be there when the inmates need them most. They only have basic medicines and have no incentive to provide good care,” said Kaung Zaw Hein, a student activist.

“Moreover, if a sick person needs care at an outside hospital, many steps are required. We discovered that two men passed away in the past week while awaiting approval from the jail authorities to visit the public hospital,” he said.

According to the jailed student activists, there are about five hundred inmates at the prison in Yamethin, and “most” are suffering from influenza due to heavy rain and dampness.