Former Political Prisoner Facing Charges over Letpadan Protest

By Lawi Weng 31 March 2015

RANGOON — Prominent activist and former political prisoner Nandar Sit Aung is facing four charges after being detained in Rangoon for his role in the Letpadan student protest, which was violently quashed earlier this month.

After he was arrested and detained in Lanmadaw Township police station on Mar. 27, Nandar Sit Aung was transferred to Mingalardon Township police station before being sent to Thayawady prison on Monday. He was brought before the Letpadan court for an arraignment on Monday evening.

“We are facing the same problems we have faced in the past,” he said during an interview with Myanma Khit Journal while at the Mingalardon police station on Monday. “They arrested us and said we were people who were trying to instigate problems in the country and were defaming the government by protesting.”

He added that the government had the power to make peace with student protesters if they chose, but was instead regressing to the era of military rule by penalizing student leaders.

Nandar Sit Aung was imprisoned in 2004 along with five other university students for participating in a leaflet campaign which criticized the military junta’s decision to reconvene the National Convention, the forum which was responsible for drafting the 2008 Constitution. According to US State Department embassy cables released by Wikileaks, Nandar Sit Aung was sentenced for “illegal assembly” and for violating immigration law as a result of his contact with Thailand-based Burmese exile groups. His 17-year sentence, the longest given to the six defendants, was later commuted by President Thein Sein as part of a broader political prisoner amnesty.

On Monday, the US State Department released a statement expressing concern at the criminal charges brought against student protesters, and called for a halt to prosecutions.

We call for the immediate, unconditional release of all individuals being detained in the country as a result of exercising their right to peacefully assemble,” the statement read. “We strongly urge an impartial and credible investigation into the [student protests] of Mar. 5 and 10, in cooperation with civil society, that would hold accountable all those involved in the violence, including security forces who applied excessive force.”

Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson.