Rangoon Court Sentences 6 More Activists Under Peaceful Assembly Law

By Nyein Nyein 21 November 2013

Six more Burmese activists were handed prison sentences Thursday for demonstrating without prior permission, according to their lawyer, bringing the total number of activists imprisoned under the 2011 Peaceful Assembly Law to 57.

Rangoon’s Kyimyindaing Township Court gave the six activists one month each in jail, according their lawyer, Robert San Aung.

The six—Moe Thway, D Nyein Lin, Ma Thandar, Soe Moe Htun, Myint Kyaw Oo and Aung Myo—were the leaders of demonstrations in Rangoon on Dec. 1, 2012, against the authorities’ brutal pre-dawn crackdown the previous month on peaceful protesters camped near the Letpadaung copper mine in central Burma. The controversial mining project was later stalled amid widespread anger directed at its Chinese and Burmese military developers, but resumed recently on new terms that will give the Burmese government a bigger share of revenues.

Charges were brought against the six activists at three township courts—Kyimyindaing, Ahlone and Sanchaung—under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which sets a one-year maximum sentence for protesting without permission. Robert San Aung said decisions from the two remaining townships were expected Friday.

“The judge at Kyimyindaing did not allow [the defendants] to call witnesses that they claim prove their case,” he told The Irrawaddy. The lawyer has been providing free legal services to those charged with Section 18, and says he is currently involved in 30 active cases.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 130 activists have been brought to court under the protest law adopted in December 2011. A total of 57 activists have been put in jail for protesting without permission. Eighteen of them are still in prison, while 39 activists have already been freed.

Naw Ohn Hla, a leader of the Rangoon-based Peace and Women Network, said one of the jailed protesters, Ma Thandar, is a colleague. Ma Thandar was taken to jail Thursday, she said.

Naw Ohn Hla, who herself served three months of a two-year jail term for helping Letpadaung protesters in August, was one of 69 released under presidential pardon on Nov. 15. The latest in a series of prisoner amnesties included about two dozen people convicted under Section 18. It appeared to be timed to coincide with visits from a high-level European Union delegation and other international dignitaries.

Naw Ohn Hla said in total, 24 cases relating to Section 18, or 505 (b) of the Penal Code, inciting unrest, have been brought against Peace and Women Network members at 15 different townships across the country.

Civil society groups have been calling for Parliament to amend Section 18 during its current session, but are yet to see any progress.

“The longer they take to amend Section 18, the more activists lose their civil rights,” said Robert San Aung.

The relatively short one-month jail terms handed down on Thursday mean the six activists will be free before year’s end. President Thein Sein has said that there would be no “prisoners of conscience” in Burma by the end of 2013.

The verdict comes as judges at different courts around Burma are this month concluding trials involving protesters in various issues. A verdict is expected on Tuesday next week in the case of ethnic Kachin peace activists who marched on the International Day of Peace in September 2012.