Facing Assembly Charges, Activist Accuses USDP of Misusing Public Property

By Nobel Zaw 15 June 2015

RANGOON — Prominent activist and parliamentary hopeful Ko Ko Gyi on Monday returned to court to face charges related to a protest against a ruling party-backed development project, which he and several other activists say violates election guidelines.

After the hearing was cancelled due to the judge’s absence, Ko Ko Gyi told reporters that the charges against him could have been timed to remove him from the political arena as elections near.

The 88 Generation member reiterated calls to halt construction of the multi-million dollar real estate development and restore a public park that once occupied the space in South Okkalar Township. The property, which belongs to the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was transferred from the state to the party’s predecessor, the USDA, in the early 2000s.

The USDA closed the public park, which had been in use since the 1960s, and used the property for offices and some small housing units. Following the dissolution of the USDA and the establishment of the USDP, the property was transferred and plans were made with Yan Naing Construction Company to begin building the multi-storey condominium project.

The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) confirmed to independent Upper House lawmaker Phone Myint Aung in March that the property was originally city property until it was transferred to the USDA as per a 60 year agreement.

In December, Ko Ko Gyi and several colleagues led a protest in South Okkalar to demand an immediate halt to the project and restoration of the park. He and four other activists were later charged with Article 19 of Burma’s Peaceful Assembly Act.

Article 19, a lesser-known sister clause to the controversial and oft-employed Article 18, carries a possible three-month sentence for protesting in an area outside designated by police.

Ko Ko Gyi said on Monday that he and his colleagues would fight the charges, maintaining that he had done nothing wrong and that the USDP should instead face punishment for misuse of public property.

“It is very apparent that this is a huge case of a political party using state-owned land, and it is misuse of public things,” he said, accusing the party of further misconduct if funds from the project are used to support the party or its campaign efforts.

Chapter 3 of Burma’s Political Parties Registration Law prohibits use of country-owned finance, land, housing, buildings, vehicles or other property by political parties. Violators can be subject to cancellation of the party’s license.

If the law was breached and the party is not punished, Ko Ko Gyi warned, “the election [process] will lose the trust of the people and the international community.”