Rakhine Villagers Accused of Terrorism Left in Limbo in Myanmar Jails

By The Irrawaddy 8 June 2022

Legal limbo in the case of two men from Ponnagyun Township in Rakhine State has dragged on for more than two years after they were arrested on suspicion of having links with the Arakan Army (AA) in March 2020.

U Maung Saw Aye and Ko Nay Lin Htay, both 25, from Ai Tin village were arrested at the Kyauktan checkpoint on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe upon returning to their village by motorbike.

Myanmar’s military filed a charge under Article 52(a) of the Counter Terrorism Law alleging that photos of AA fighters were found on their phones.

Sittwe District Court was supposed to deliver a verdict in April last year after all the prosecution witnesses testified but it has left the case for more than a year without a ruling, according to family members.

U Maung Phyu Che, the father of U Maung Saw Aye, said: “The court has postponed the verdict again and again, which is not fair for them and upsets their families.”

During a court hearing in May, the accused raised a complaint but the judge did not respond, said U Maung Phyu Che.

In another case, five villagers from Kyaukseik in Ponnagyun Township have also spent more than two years in prison after their court postponed the ruling. The five were arrested in April 2020 and charged under the Counter Terrorism Law over alleged ties with the AA.

Defense lawyer U Kyaw Nyunt Maung said he has never seen a case being put off for so long in his career.

“Family members have suffered. The previous judge postponed the trial because of instructions from above. The current judge postponed the trial saying he is still studying the case. In 20 years as a lawyer this is the first time a judge has taken more than a year and the first time a verdict has been postponed for more than a year,” said the lawyer.

Soldiers detained 38 villagers from Kyaukseik on April 19, 2020, and released 33 of them the following day but opened cases against the rest.

A video of the five villagers being beaten by soldiers during interrogation on a naval vessel was shared widely on social media in May 2020.

At the time, military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said action would be taken against the soldiers who beat the five villagers. But there has not been any report of action taken against them.

Moreover, six villagers from Sar Pyin and Chet Pauk in Taungup Township also have been on a terrorism trial for more than two years at the Thandwe District Court. They were detained in June 2020 and charged for allegedly financing terrorism.

Rakhine politician U Pe Than said: “Those cases should be dropped since the AA was removed from the list of terrorist organizations [in March 2021]. Judges and legal officers should ask for a straight answer from the central government about that. Are they holding up because decision makers have hinted at something? If so it is illegal.”

Following the coup, the regime released relatives of AA chief Major General Tun Myat Naing and some Rakhine villagers who were prosecuted on suspicion of having ties with the AA but more than 30 Rakhine villagers are still on terrorism trial at courts in Sittwe, Mrauk-U and Thandwe, said U Myat Tun from the Arakan Human Rights Defenders and Promoters Association.

“As the AA has been removed from the list of terrorist groups the accused should now be released. But they have been locked in the circle of being brought to court and then back to prison. This has caused many troubles for families. This is a human rights violation,” he said.

Family members have run up against financial difficulties as the courts have dithered, he said.

The regime has opened a case against a man and woman from Kyaukphyu Township under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code for allegedly collecting funds for the AA earlier this month. It has also detained two Rakhine people and two Chin residents in Paletwa Township, Chin State, on suspicion of having links to the AA.

The AA has refused to attend talks with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing. Military tensions have been running high in Rakhine State with the regime targeting the village-level officials of the United League of Arakan, the political wing of the AA, which has been establishing a parallel administration.