Eight Arakanese Re-Arrested after Completing Sentence for Mrauk-U Protest

By Moe Myint 25 September 2018

YANGON—Eight Arakanese freed by a Sittwe court on Monday after spending months in detention for participating in a protest in Mrauk-U in were abruptly re-arrested on the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs on the same day on a separate charge and sent to the No. 1 Sittwe Police Station.

The eight were freed after the Sittwe court ruled their detention period counted toward their initial sentence. Family members had gathered to await their release, but their joy turned to sadness within an hour when they learned of the ministry’s order.

The suspects spent about eight months in prison after the state police sued them for involvement in an unauthorized protest in Mrauk-U, the ancient Arakanese capital, earlier this year. The spontaneous rally began when Arakanese took to the streets to protest authorities’ banning of an event to mark the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom to the Burmese Kong Baung dynasty in the 18th century.

When hundreds of protesters rallied in front of the government offices in Mrauk-U, police fired into the crowd, killing seven civilians and severely wounding nearly a dozen. No officials faced any kind of disciplinary action over the killing of the protesters. The eight detained Arakanese—who were charged under Article 6 (1) for destroying public assets—were among the wounded.

Defense lawyer Daw Aye Nu Sein, who also serves as a vice chairwoman of the Arakan National Party (ANP), told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Tuesday that the judge sentenced the convicts to eight-month jail terms at about 1 p.m. on Monday. Taking their detention periods into account, the judge ordered their release. However, instead of freeing them, the police took the detainees to a jail in Sittwe, citing the need for more paperwork to be done.

In the evening, Police Captain Thein Naing, who was also a plaintiff in the previous case against the eight, asked the judge to remand them in custody as he planned to charge the detainees under Article 16 of the Union Flag Law. He transported the detainees to No. 1 Sittwe police station about 8 p.m. Sittwe residents who witnessed the events unfolding live-streamed scenes of the family members crying outside the court and following the eight to the police station.

The chief officer at the police station said the arrests were made by made by Mrauk-U police and declined to answer further questions on Tuesday.

A regional lawmaker representing the ANP in the Rakhine Parliament, U Tun Thar Sein, who witnessed the gathering at Sittwe Police Station, said the surprise move by police drew public intention and several hundred Sittwe locals gathered right in front of the police station at 9 p.m. Top leaders from the ANP urged the public not to react aggressively to the police. The lawmaker said the situation between the police and the public was quite intense and had the potential to turn into a riot.

“I really doubt the case as it appears to be a deliberate attempt to create a [conflict] situation in the state,” said MP U Tun Thar Sein.

An Arakanese commentator, Ko Tun Tun Naing, who contributes articles to local publications, said releasing someone in the morning and re-arresting them in the afternoon was an inappropriate act by police. He said the surprise arrest indicated that civilians are badly suffering from a lack of legal protections, and sent a direct message that anyone can be unconditionally arrested.

“As a consequence we civilians feel unsafe and there will be more distrust in the government,” said Tun Tun Naing.

The ANP’s vice chairwoman Daw Aye Nu Sein elaborated that the prosecutor should have filed all the charges against the protestors as part of the same case. She said a law enacted in 1973, the Interpretation of Expressions Law, stipulates that a case against a suspect shall not be opened in separate stages. It’s unclear whether the judge granted the police’s remand request in line with the law or not.

Lawmaker U Tun Thar Sein said opening a new case after a conviction without filing the case during the detention period raised serious questions about the judicial system in the country.

“It seems they want to keep them [the accused] behind bars forever,” Daw Aye Nu Sein said.