Rights Activist Back to Insein on Peaceful Assembly Rap

By Nyein Nyein 3 April 2015

RANGOON — Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced to four months in prison on Thursday, after the Bahan Township court found her guilty of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law during a Sept. 29 protest.

The long-time activist, a prominent advocate for land rights and political prisoners, has been in and out of prison for the last decade for her role in leading several protests.

“The court sentenced her to four months for a protest calling for the release of political prisoners, including the student Phyu Hnin Htwe and slain freelance journalist Par Gyi,” prominent lawyer Robert San Aung, who has represented Naw Ohn Hla both during the trial and earlier proceedings, told The Irrawaddy.

Phyu Hnin Htwe, a young member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, was detained for over a month for her alleged role in the kidnapping of two Wanbao contractors at the company’s Letpadaung copper mining project, before the company dropped charges against her in October. Par Gyi was shot to death in the same month while in military custody.

Robert San Aung said his client, who has been in detention since Dec. 30, is still facing upcoming trials in five different township courts across Rangoon.

Naw Ohn Hla and five other activists were arrested late last year for a demonstration held outside the Chinese embassy in Rangoon, urging an investigation into the shooting death of Letpadaung farmer Daw Khin Win by local police during a protest against the mining project.

The six defendants will face charges of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law at the Pabedan, Kyauktada, Latha and Lanmadaw Township courts in relation to the embassy protest. The Dagon Township court will also charge Naw Ohn Hla for violating Penal Code articles 505(b), which prohibits statements likely to harm “public tranquility” and 353, which covers the use of “assault or criminal force” to hinder a public servant. Both charges carry a maximum prison term of two years.

She will appear at Dagon Township court next Tuesday, according to her lawyer.

In August 2013, Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced to two years imprisonment for her involvement in a protest at Letpadaung. Her sentence was commuted after a presidential pardon four months later, which also dropped 33 pending charges against her.

In early 2014 she was again brought before the courts, this time in relation to a prayer service held for Aung San Suu Kyi while the opposition leader was under house arrest in 2007.

Naw Ohn Hla had repeatedly been subjected to brief periods of detention under the previous military regime. According to her colleague Ma Thandar, herself a former political prisoner and widow of Par Gyi, the activist was imprisoned for two years in 2009 after she delivered a document to a monastery condemning the crackdown on the Saffron Revolution, on the date of the uprising’s one-year anniversary.

The Rangoon-based Democracy and Peace Women Network, co-founded by Naw Ohn Hla and Ma Thandar in 2012, has been internationally recognized for its work in raising awareness of land rights among farmers and its campaigns against domestic violence.

Robert San Aung told The Irrawaddy he had no hope that her trials would conclude before the general election, slated for October or November this year.

“It looks like the authorities want strong activists to stay behind bars as the election approaches,” he said.