YANGON — Sixteen ethnic Karenni youth activists were sued on Tuesday for organizing a protest against plans to erect a statue of late independence hero General Aung San in the Karenni State capital, Loikaw, according to a police letter posted online.
About 1,000 local Karenni marched against the project in Loikaw on July 3. The demonstration turned violent after police blocked the marchers’ path to the park where the statue is to be erected.
A few days after the protest, the state’s chief minister met with the statue’s opponents and agreed to postponed the project. He ordered local officials to survey their constituents on whether they were in support of the statue and said he would make a final decision on whether to proceed at the end of the month.
Despite the reprieve, 16 of the youth activists who organized the protest were informed on Tuesday that they were being sued by the Loikaw Township administrator under articles 19 and 20 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which regulates protests. One youth group claimed online that more than 16 activists were sued on Tuesday, but neither the group nor police could be reached for confirmation.
Ko Oattra Aung, a central committee member of the Union of Karenni State Youth, said the freedom of assembly and expression were enshrined in the Constitution and that the sued activists did not harm anyone.
He said opponents of the statue would continue to resist the project despite the court action.
Eleven of the 16 activists sued on Tuesday were also sued earlier in the month at the Loikaw Township Court for incitement under Article 505 (b) and (c) of the Penal Code for distributing pamphlets opposing the statue ahead of the protest.
Of the 11, four have also been sued under Article 505 (b) and (c) at the Demoso Township court and made their first appearance there today. The four chose not to seek bail and were detained.
Ko Oattra Aung said he believed the authorities were planning to open similar cases in every townships where the activists distributed the pamphlets.
The incitement charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The charges under the Peaceful Assembly Law carry a maximum one-year sentence.