Karenni Activists Who Were Jailed Over Myanmar’s Gen Aung San Statue Dispute Freed

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 13 December 2019

Yangon – Five young ethnic Karenni men who called Kayah State’s chief minister, U L Phaung Sho, and other ministers traitors and political criminals were released Friday after six months in prison.

Six men were sentenced on Nov. 7 by the Loikaw Township Court after spending around four months in custody for issuing a statement saying the state’s chief minister and minister of planning and finance were traitors to the Karenni and enemies of ethnic unity.

The statement condemned the state government’s decision to erect a statue of General Aung San in the state capital, Loikaw.

The court sentenced them to six months in prison under the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens.

Khu Khu Peh Kay, one of the six, was released on Nov. 25, as he was arrested earlier than the other five.

The remaining five were Ko Myo Hlaing Win, Dee De, Khun Thomas, Khu Reedu and Pyar Lay.

“To solve the country’s problems, the government has to consider the rights of ethnic minorities and change the Constitution,”Dee De told The Irrawaddy.

He added that they will try to remove the statue of Gen. Aung San from the park in Loikaw, which was erected in February amid protests. The state government had failed to recognize the will of the Karenni, Dee De said.

The Kayah State government has dropped its appeal seeking harsher sentences against the six Karenni activists, after facing criticism and objections from the civil society groups and the public.

A Loikaw District Court judge will decide on Dec. 20 whether the appeal should be removed.

U L Phaung Sho was unavailable for comment.

Hundreds of Karenni accused the chief minister of acting like a dictator and overseeing raids, lawsuits and violence against residents who had opposed the statue.

They accused the state government of abusing its power by allocating more than 140 million kyats (US$92,000) of the state’s road and telecommunications funds for the statue, without informing the state parliament.

The Karenni statement was issued with the six activists’ signatures in March and the men were arrested in June and detained for about four months before being given six-month prison sentences.

The National League for Democracy government has also erected Gen. Aung San statues in other states despite public objections.

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