Four Arrested Over 2016 US Embassy Protest

By Lawi Weng 12 May 2017

RANGOON— In the National League for Democracy-led government’s second biggest move against nationalists since decreeing the Ma Ba Tha unlawful last year, Rangoon police arrested four hardline nationalists on Friday after Kamayut Township court rejected bail pleas and charged them with “committing offences against the State.”

Win Ko Ko Latt, Naung Daw Lay, Thet Myo Oo, and Nay Win Aung were charged under Burma’s Penal Code Article 505 (b) and Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Act along with three Buddhist monks, U Parmaukkha, U Thuseitha and U Nyana Dhamma, for a protest outside the US Embassy in Rangoon on April 28 last year against the American mission’s use of the word “Rohingya.”

Police did not disclose how they would take action against the three monks.

One of the monks, U Thuseitta, had an arrest warrant issued on Thursday for his involvement in violence between Buddhist nationalists and Muslims in Rangoon’s Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township on Tuesday. 

The judge denied the defendants’ bail requests, as Article 505(b) did not allow accused persons to be released on bail. The court will send a letter to U Parmaukkha, U Thuseitha and U Nyana Dhamma, who all failed to appear at court, she said. The judge set the next court date for May 22.

Burma’s Penal Code Article 505 (b) is punishable by a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.

Win Ko Ko Latt, Naung Daw Lay, Thet Myo Oo, and Nay Win Aung argued that they had sought permission for the embassy protest, but it was rejected by police. Win Ko Ko Latt said police only authorized a protest at Bo Sein Mann football grounds, not the embassy.

“We protested at the US embassy, but we did not remove any fence from in front of the embassy or threaten the embassy,” he said.

The protest took place after the US Embassy issued a statement on April 23 using the word Rohingya. The protesters reject the term Rohingya—with which the Muslim minority self-identifies—and instead refer to the group as “Bengali,” implying that they are migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law does not recognize the Rohingya among the country’s 135 official ethnic groups, contributing to widespread statelessness for the community.

“We do not have Rohingya in our country, but the US Embassy statement used the word Rohingya. Therefore, we protested it, and we were not guilty,” he said, adding that they had a right to protest.

A number of the defendants’ supporters outside the court cried and shouted at the judges ruling and as the defendants were taken away by police.