Dozens Charged as Govt Vows Legal Action Against Demonstrators

By Yen Saning 11 March 2015

LETPADAN, Pegu Division – Burma’s Ministry of Home Affairs announced on Wednesday that those who were behind violent clashes at a protest site in Letpadan, Pegu Division, will be identified and punished, as 127 students and other civilians remain in detention awaiting either trial or exoneration.

In a statement posted on social media, the Ministry said that those who have not committed a crime will be released, while anyone found to have been behind Tuesday’s incident, encouraged unlawful activity or “tried to destabilize the country” will be charged accordingly.

Letpadan district Deputy Police Superintendent Ohn Sein told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that about 60 people had already been arraigned, while the remainder are still in detention at Tharyarwaddy Prison.

“The police station has opened a case against them under five acts,” Ohn Sein said. “There was no release of detainees yet.”

Oh Sein said that the charges are under articles 143, 145, 147, 332 and 505(b) of the Penal Code. These charges include participation in an unlawful assembly, joining or continuing an unlawful assembly, rioting, harming a public servant and incitement, and carry punishments of up to three years for some counts.

The names and exact number of people facing charges related to the incident is still unconfirmed, as are the details of which charges apply to each of the detainees. Multiple charges could result in sentences of up to eight years.

State media reported that students and other civilians were among the detainees, while the Myanmar journalist Network has included at least one journalist among them.

The courthouse in Letpadan was heavily guarded on Wednesday afternoon as families of the detained waited outside alongside a crowd of journalists, all prohibited from entering the building. Parents said they were denied all access to their children and many worried that they would be denied access to legal counsel.

“We didn’t have a chance to see our children, I just saw a shadow of my son,” said Ma Swe, the mother of a detained student. “I don’t think there’s any way they can see a lawyer if their parents can’t even approach them. The court is guarded like a fortress and no one is allowed to go near.”

Nay Win, another anxious parent, said the police were “twisting” reality by treating the students and their supporters as criminals.

“Actually, it was the police who acted brutally toward the students, they are the culprit and deserve the punishment, not the students who are fighting for academic freedom,” he said. “They are lying and twisting the truth to make the students look like the bad guys.”

The next court hearing for those currently facing charges has been scheduled for March 15.