YANGON — Prominent Arakanese politician U Aye Maung and author Wai Han Aung were charged with defamation and unlawful association during their appearance at the Rathedaung Township court in Rakhine State on Monday, according to the author’s defense lawyer.
The two were arrested two weeks ago in Sittwe, the state capital, for remarks at a public lecture expressing support for the ethnic armed group the Arakan Army in Rathedaung earlier this month. Authorities had scheduled their first hearing for Jan. 31 but moved it up by two days.
“We have heard that authorities are planning to file additional charges against Dr. Aye Maung at the Sittwe court,” Daw Aye Nu Sein, Wai Han Aung’s lawyer, told The Irrawaddy.
More serious charges such as high treason can only be tried by a district court, such as the one in Sittwe.
Daw Aye Nu Sein said she did not know if U Aye Maung, a lawmaker in Rakhine State’s Lower House, had secured his own lawyer.
She said U Ba Than, who organized the lecture in Rathedaung that sparked the court case, was charged with the same articles as the author and politician but did not appear during Monday’s 15-minute hearing.
Wai Han Aung’s brother Ko Thein Win said nearly 100 armed Sittwe police accompanied the two defendants on their short drive from Sittwe prison, where they are being held, to the local jetty early Monday morning for the boat trip to Rathedaung. They arrived at court at about 10:20 a.m.
Dozens of police were also deployed in Rathedaung for their arrival. Local authorities temporarily blocked off roads around the court, while passenger boats and schooners arriving on their daily supply runs were barred from docking at the jetties until 11:00 a.m.
Ko Thein Win said relatives of the defendants and journalists alike were not allowed to see the suspects and were informed that the next hearing was scheduled for Feb. 9.
“They should have allowed us to meet with my brother. It’s really unfair and unacceptable to me,” he said. “The security deployment was quite similar to a military operation; residents were scared of their behavior.”