YANGON—Three people were detained by police for holding an event to mark the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day on Wednesday without permission from local authorities.
The death of Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi, who was killed on Aug. 12, 1950, is commemorated annually as Karen Martyrs’ Day.
On Monday, authorities in Yangon Region’s Kyauktada Township denied a request by Karen organizers for permission to hold an event to commemorate the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day in central Yangon, citing COVID-19 restrictions.
Under government COVID-19 restrictions in effect until Saturday, mass gatherings are banned in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, the organizers of the event vowed to hold the commemoration in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
On Wednesday morning, organizers went ahead with the commemoration near Yangon’s Maha Bandula Park, including putting in place COVID-19 preventative measures.
Groups paying their respects to the Karen Martyrs were limited to 15 people, and all were required to wear COVID-19 preventative gear including facemasks, gloves and surgical caps. Several dozen people attended the commemoration.
At around 10 a.m., Kyauktada police arrested three people—event organizer Sa Thein Zaw Min and two supporters of the event, Saw Hser Kwar Lar and Daw Sein Htwe.
According to the organizers, Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Hser Kwar Lar were detained for holding the event without the approval of local authorities.
Ethnic Burmese Daw Sein Htwe, who attended the Karen Martyrs’ Day event on Wednesday, was also arrested by the police for allegedly absconding from a lawsuit brought against her under the Unlawful Assembly Law last year.
On Oct. 2, 2019, Kyauktada Police opened unlawful assembly cases against three activists—Daw Sein Htwe, Ma Zarchi Linn of the Democracy, Peace and Women (DPW) group, and Naw Larshee Htoo of the Karen Women’s Union (KWU)—for leading a rally in solidarity with three Karen activists who had earlier been sentenced to 15 days’ jail for holding an event to mark the 69th Karen Martyrs’ Day in Yangon. Karen activists Sa Thein Zaw Min, Saw Albert Cho and Daw Naw Ohn Hla, the chair of Karen Women’s Union, were sentenced to 15 days in prison by the Kyauktada Township Court on Oct. 2, 2019 over that gathering.
Asked about Wednesday’s arrests, Ko Saw Kyaw Lin, one of organizers of the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day event, told The Irrawaddy that, “This is unfair to our ethnic group. This is a kind of discrimination.”
Prominent Karen activist Naw Ohn Hla, another event organizer, told The Irrawaddy that the Karen Martyrs’ Day commemoration was held according to COVID-19 prevention guidelines and in line with the relevant laws.
“This is direct evidence that the government is not protecting its citizens. Citizens who held a commemoration in accordance with the laws were oppressed,” Naw Ohn Hla said.
The two Karen activists, Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Hser Kwar Lar, were detained at Kyauktada Township Police Station.
The other activist, Daw Sein Htwe, was due to appear at a court hearing on Wednesday after being arrested.
Police Colonel Myo Thet of Kyauktada Township Police Force declined to comment on Wednesday.
The Irrawaddy was unable to clarify under which laws police plan to sue the two Karen activists.
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