Prominent Jailed Activist on Hunger Strike Over Presidential Protection Bill

By Nyein Nyein 6 January 2016

Political prisoner Naw Ohn Hla began a prison hunger strike on Tuesday to protest proposed legislation that would grant wide-ranging legal immunity for ex-presidents’ conduct in office.

The 53-year-old democracy activist has been frequently imprisoned for her advocacy of causes ranging from peace and justice to the release of political prisoners in Burma over the past two decades. She is currently serving time for a Dec. 29, 2014 protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon following the death of a woman in Letpadaung about one week earlier.

She was sentenced last year to six years and two months’ imprisonment for that protest, on charges including Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law and Article 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code. She and several fellow protesters had urged the government to carry out an investigation into the killing of Khin Win, who was shot dead on Dec. 22, 2014, by police at the Chinese-back Letpadaung copper mine in Monywa, Sagaing Division.

Other protesters were also sentenced to between three and five years in prison, while one participant, Myat Nu Khaing, is still standing trial and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Parliament in Burma’s Nov. 8 general election.

Naw Ohn Hla heads up the Democracy and Peace Women Network, which she cofounded in 2011.

Min Nay Htoo, a spokesperson for the network, told The Irrawaddy that he had received a message from her through other labor rights activists who are standing trial and appeared at a court hearing he attended on Wednesday.

“She has refused to eat the food given to her since Jan. 5, as she opposes the Former President’s Protection Bill,” the spokesperson said.

Min Nay Htoo, who regularly pays visits to political prisoners like Naw Ohn Hla, said officials at Rangoon’s Insein Prison were continuing to feed the activist, but she refuses to eat the food provided.

“I was told that the prison officials told her to follow the prison procedures by submitting a letter for hunger strikes,” he said, referring to existing administrative paperwork for carrying out a hunger strike while imprisoned.

Naw Ohn Hla is a former member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who has been a leading voice of Burma’s pro-democracy movement since 1988. She was dismissed from the party, which won the November election, for not abiding by its disciplinary code as she led a protest and prayer service at Shwedagon Pagoda in 2005 that called for the release of political prisoners jailed by the ruling junta of the time.

Critics say the “Former President’s Protection Bill,” put forward by the administration of President Thein Sein last month, would effectively allow the outgoing chief executive and his successors to act during their term of office without accountability or fear of legal repercussions, with Article 10 of the legislation stating that ex-presidents are “to be immune from any prosecution for his actions during his term.”

The bulk of the bill’s other articles relate to the provision of a bodyguard for life to protect former presidents.