Jailed Arakanese Politician, Author Transferred to Yangon’s Insein Prison

By Nyein Nyein 8 April 2019

YANGON—Arakanese politician Dr. Aye Maung and author Wai Hin Aung were transferred from Sittwe Prison in Rakhine State to Insein Prison in Yangon Region on Saturday afternoon, but the families said they were not informed about the transfer.

The District Court of Sittwe on March 19 sentenced the pair to 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for defamation, to be served concurrently. They were arrested in January last year in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, for remarks they made earlier that month at an event in Rathaetaung Township commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom to the Burmese in 1785. They were prosecuted in September.

Both men are now at Insein Prison, according to the families and their lawyers. Both families told The Irrawaddy they were not told of the prison transfers by officials.

U Tin Maung Win, the son of U Aye Maung, told The Irrawaddy on Monday the failure to inform the families about the prison transfer, “showed a lack of fairness”, adding that the government had neglected them.

The families heard about the transfer on Saturday evening at around 8 p.m. and arranged to fly to Yangon and meet their loved ones on Monday, according to U Thein Win, the brother of U Wai Hin Aung.

U Thein Win said that despite making the trip to Yangon, the relatives were not sure they would be meeting the two men.

“We heard they were transported on a flight, so we assume they must be in Insein Prison,” he said. “And this [Monday] morning, Wai Hin Aung told me that they did not know in advance of the transfer, either. The prison officers took them to meet the higher officials before the prison doors were shut at sunset and then sent them by airplane to Yangon on Saturday afternoon at around 6 p.m.”

Under the National League for Democracy-led government, the practice of prison transfers “is similar to the old times,” said Daw Aye Nu Sein, a lawyer for U Wai Hin Aung, referring to the prisoners of conscience under previous military regimes, who were transferred from prisons in their own townships to distant locations, making it difficult for their families to pay prison visits.

U Aye Maung’s lawyers appealed to the Rakhine State Court on March 28, and are waiting for a date for the appeal proceedings. The State Court is still considering whether to accept the appeal, said U Aung Kyaw Sein, a lawyer for U Aye Maung.

U Aung Kyaw Sein told The Irrawaddy the appeal was based on the fact that there was no precedent for someone being convicted of high treason over the content of a speech.

With regards to the alleged libel action as reported in the state media, the lawyer said the witnesses’ statements against the two men were “unsubstantiated”, adding that their conviction was legally controversial. The advocate said they would wait for the Rakhine State Court’s decision and, if needed, would further appeal to the Union-level court.

U Wei Hin Aung’s legal team has yet to submit an appeal, as he wants to wait until April 21, the end of the Thingyan water festival, during which Myanmar celebrates its traditional New Year, according to his lawyer.

It is customary for the Myanmar president to release prisoners, including political prisoners, during the annual Myanmar New Year holidays, which fall on April 13-17 this year.

Whether such an amnesty will be held this year will depend on the incumbent government’s policy on presidential pardons, U Aung Kyaw Sein added.