Protest Trial Threatens Ko Ko Gyi’s NLD Candidacy

By Nobel Zaw 20 July 2015

RANGOON — The South Okkalar Township court in Rangoon has again summoned 88 Generation student leader Ko Ko Gyi after reports on Sunday that the pro-democracy activist would compete in Burma’s November general election on the National League for Democracy (NLD) ticket.

“We called him to come on July 22 or July 23 and we have also informed the township court,” South Okkalar Township Police Chief Myo Aung told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

He added that township police had charged Ko Ko Gyi under Article 19 of Burma’s Peaceful Assembly law at the order of district and divisional authorities. The summons comes less than four months ahead of a general election scheduled for Nov. 8, and the court’s actions could imperil Ko Ko Gyi’s prospective candidacy.

Ko Ko Gyi and four other activists—Saw Naing, Mone Khat, Naing Ko Lin and Sit Maung—staged a protest in December calling for officials to return to public hands a park in South Okkalar Township that was seized by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) about a decade ago.

The activists called for a halt to construction of a multi-million dollar real estate development on the property and for the restoration of a public park that once occupied the space. The property, which belongs to the USDP, was transferred from the state to the party’s predecessor, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), in the early 2000s.

Police did grant permission for the protest inside Kyaikkasan Stadium, an old horse-racing track in Tamwe Township, but the activists instead staged a small march in South Okkalar Township’s Ward 9, running afoul of Article 19.

Article 19 is a sister clause to the better-known and controversial Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, and stipulates a punishment of up to three months’ imprisonment for protestors who demonstrate outside the area designated by authorities.

Aung Thu Ra, Ko Ko Gyi’s personal assistant, confirmed that a summons letter had been received on Monday calling the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society leader to attend a hearing at noon on July 22 or 23.

In June following his first court appearance, Ko Ko Gyi speculated that the six-month delay between the protest in South Okkalar Township and the court arraignment could have been intended to remove him from the political arena ahead of the election.

“It is a very amazing coincidence, the timing of the call to submit candidate lists and the prosecution of the case, which we protested six months ago,” he told reporters on June 15.

The township court first summoned Ko Ko Gyi and the other four activists on that day, but the judge failed to appear on time and the defendants left the courthouse after 30 minutes.

Depending on the timeline of the trial and its verdict, Ko Ko Gyi could be rendered ineligible to compete under Burma’s Election Law, which bars convicted criminals from running for Parliament.

Additional reporting by Tun Tun.