NAYPYITAW—Lawyers for prominent Rakhine politician Dr. Aye Maung and author Ko Wai Hin Aung, who were convicted of high treason in March, have made a special appeal to the Supreme Court of the Union asking the court to conduct a plenary session to reconsider the punishment.
In March, the District Court in Sittwe, Rakhine State, sentenced the two to 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for defamation of the state, to be served concurrently.
U Khin Nu, the lawyer for Dr. Aye Maung, told reporters in Naypyitaw on Tuesday that they submitted their request for a plenary session in the Supreme Court as appeals for the pair at the Rakhine State High Court and the Supreme Court of the Union were both denied.
The two were arrested and charged in January 2018 over remarks they made at a public event in Rathedaung Township commemorating the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakan Kingdom that allegedly expressed and encouraged support for the Arakan Army (AA) ethnic armed group.
“Dr. Aye Maung was just speaking [at the January 2018 event]. I hope [the Supreme Court of the Union] will give an answer on whether it is legal to charge him with high treason, which normally involves armed revolution,” said U Khin Nu.
The lawyer met his client late last week at Insein Prison in Yangon. “Dr. Aye Maung is doing well. He is active and full of hope that the appeal will be accepted and he will be released,” U Khin Nu told reporters.
Daw Aye Nu Sein, lawyer for author Ko Wai Hin Aung, suggested that just giving talks as an author doesn’t amount to high treason.
“We submitted the appeal because a higher level court has not heard or judged whether the ruling of the district-level court is legally correct. We have brought the special appeal because we want to get the hearing and ruling from the highest court,” said Daw Aye Nu Sein.
The lawyer added that commemorative events to mark the fall of the Arakanese Kingdom have been held for many years and that similar celebrations are common among ethnic Bamar people: vice-presidents, other government leaders and the military chief have attended events to commemorate the last monarch of Myanmar, King Thibaw.
“If there are 115 ethnic groups officially recognized in this country, where the principles of equality and proper policies are embraced, it is important that each ethnic group recognizes and respects the history of other groups,” Daw Aye Nu Sein said.
“If ethnic Bamar have the right to commemorate [King] Thibaw, Mon should have the right to commemorate [their King] Manuha, and Rakhine should have the right to commemorate [their King] Thamada Raja,” she said.
The military-appointed home affairs minister and Rakhine State chief minister both told State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at a cabinet meeting in January 2018 that Dr. Aye Maung and Ko Wai Hin Aung made remarks that were against the law.
The event where the two spoke had already been banned. On Jan. 16, 2018, thousands of Mrauk-U residents staged a protest after officials banned the memorial event to mark the 233rd anniversary of the end of the Arakan Dynasty. Local police opened fire on the crowd, killing seven civilians and severely injuring 12.
Political analyst U Maung Maung Soe suggested that the arrest of Dr. Aye Maung and the crackdown on local residents in Mrauk-U undermined the trust of Rakhine youth in the political process and pushed them toward the armed struggle.
“While tensions are high between the two sides [the Myanmar military and the AA], I think it would be good to free Dr. Aye Maung,” said U Maung Maung Soe.
Dr. Aye Maung was the founder of the Arakan National Party and served as its chairman. He was elected to the Upper House under the previous government. He lost the 2015 election however, but in the 2017 by-election, he was elected to the Lower House representing An Township, Rakhine State.
Translated by Thet Ko Ko.