Karenni Activists Charged in Loikaw, in Myanmar’s Kayah State

By Htet Khaung Lin 26 August 2019

YANGON—The Loikaw Township Court on Monday officially charged six Karenni youths with slander under Article 8(d) of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens for calling the Kayah State chief minister a traitor over his support of a statue of Myanmar independence hero General Aung San.

In February, the Kayah State government erected the statue in a park in the state’s capital, Loikaw, amid much protest from Karenni locals. The state government used the police force to crack down on protesters that had gathered at the park and later outside of the local National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters.

Karenni activists said at the time that they have their own history involving their own ethnic leaders, and that the statue of Gen. Aung San is a symbol of the dominant role the interests and identity of the Burmese majority plays in the country, to the disadvantage of ethnic minorities.

To them, it’s also a symbol of what they see as yet-unfulfilled promises made by the assassinated general and the Panglong Agreement of 1947.

The state government and local Karenni youths have met several times to find a solution in the past few months but no agreement could be reached, even with the involvement of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.

In March, the six activists issued a statement against Kayah State Chief Minister L Phaung Sho and Minister of Planning and Finance U Maw Maw, accusing them of being political criminals, traitors to the Karenni people and enemies of ethnic unity for erecting the statue.

The chief minister did not take action against them at the time but, after negotiations over their demands that the statue be removed collapsed in May, he ordered officials to open cases against them. The Loikaw Township General Administration Department filed the charges on May 17.

The six detained activists are Ko Myo Hlaing Win, Ko Dee De, Ko Khun Thomas, Ko Khu Reedu, Ko Phyar Lay and Ko Khu Kyu Peh Kay.

If convicted they face six months to three years in prison.

The charges shows the government’s political immaturity, said Kayan National Party chairman Khun B Htoo.

It is against the law for the chief minister to ask the General Administration Department to file the complaint instead of filing it himself, he said, adding that the courts are operating under pressure from above.

“It appears that if we want to stage a protest now, we have to stage it very seriously. This is not a good trend. Some have started to think about [responding sternly]. It appears that the court has to accept charges filed by either the military or the NLD as they please. Ethnic groups have started to feel that there is no justice. This is no longer acceptable. It appears that [the government and the military] are oppressing us intentionally, though there are solutions for resolving this,” he said.

Ko Dee De after the trial on Monday said the activists do not regret calling those involved in erecting the Gen. Aung San statue traitors.

“We are digging the history of our ethnic group, not trying to harm someone. We are only speaking for the truth. We will boldly face those who think it is a crime,” he told members of the media.

Lawmakers from the NLD’s Kayah State chapter declined to comment.

In March, Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) spokesperson Nei Neh Plo said the disputes over the statue in Loikaw have hampered the KNPP’s efforts to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

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