RANGOON — Rangoon police said they have brought criminal charges against five activists, including prominent 88 Student Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi, who are accused of holding an unauthorized protest calling for the restoration of a public park in South Okkalar Township that was seized by the ruling party about a decade ago.
Ko Ko Gyi and local activists Saw Naing, Mone Khat, Naing Ko Lin and Sit Maung were among the organizers and speakers at a small march through South Okkalar’s Ward 9 on Sunday, where they announced plans to campaign against a planned construction project at the former park.
South Okkalar Township Police Station chief Myo Aung said the organizers had violated Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, as authorities had only granted them permission to demonstrate within the walled premises of Kyaikkasan, an old horse-racing track in Tamwe Township.
“They were only allowed [to demonstrate] in the western part of Kyaikkasan Stadium, but they demonstrated at the South Okkalar Township,” Myo Aung said, adding that police had completed an investigation against the five activists and would “soon” file a case with the township court.
Article 19, a sister clause to the better-known and controversial Article 18 of the Peace Assembly Law, stipulates punishment of three months’ imprisonment for violating a separate provision in the legislation requiring protestors to remain within the area police have designated for a protest.
Rangoon police in recent months have regularly chosen to only authorize protests in Kyaikkasan Stadium, an unattractive proposition for demonstration organizers who seek public attention for their causes.
More than 40 activists have subsequently been hit with charges under Article 19 for not following police instructions.
Saw Naing said the South Okkalar activists had been informed by police that they were being charged under Article 19 and were asked to sign a statement promising that they would appear in court if a trial begins.
He said holding a protest in the old horse-racing grounds, as police had authorized them to do, was pointless and therefore organizers ignored the order.
“We are demanding to stop a construction project that is located at South Okkalar Township. Kyaikkasan [Stadium] is so far from that place and there are no people at that stadium,” he said.
Regardless of the charges, Saw Yaing said, a campaign would continue to resists plans to give the former public park controlled by the ruling party to Yan Naing Construction Company, which intends to build a block of condominiums at the site.
In the 1960s, the area in Ward 9 on the corner of Waizayanthar Road and Thit Sar Street was turned into a public park and playground, but in the early 2000s the then-military government gave the public property to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the political mass movement of the junta and predecessor of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
The party built a township office and a number of shop houses in the area, but recently planned a joint development project with Yan Naing Construction Company.
Saw Yaing said the activists planned to petition residents of Ward 9 and surrounding neighborhoods and collect at least 200 signatures in support of a letter to President Thein Sein calling on him to cancel the construction project and restore the old park.
Phone Myint Aung, an independent Upper House lawmaker, said a USDP sign board at the site in Ward 9 indicated that the area was property of the party, a situation he said that violates the Political Party Registration Law. “I will collect information and complain to the Union Election Commission,” he added.
Activist Faces Article 19 Charge for Unauthorized Aung San March
Police in Rangoon’s Kyimyindaing Township charged an activist under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law on Friday after he organized an unauthorized march to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Burmese independence hero Gen. Aung San.
Organizer Win Htike Hein said township police had granted him permission to hold a rally within the premises of Kyaikkasan, the old horse-racing track, an order he had ignored because it was not a public space.
He said he had walked with about 200 people on Dec. 8 from Kyimyindaing Township to Rangoon Town Hall in Kyauktada Township, adding that on Friday he had been informed by police that he was facing criminal charges under Article 19.
Authorities in all six townships the march passed through were seeking to charge him, Win Htike Hein said.
Kyimyindaing Township Police Station Toe Shwe said, “We have charged with Article 19. We took action according to the law as he went beyond the permitted area.”
Additional reporting by Bhone Myat.