State Govt Seeks Harsher Sentence for Karenni Youth on Gen. Aung San Statue Issue

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 29 November 2019

YANGON—The Kayah State government has appealed to a higher court to increase the prison terms of six ethnic Karenni youth who were sentenced to six months in prison for accusing state government officials of being political criminals and enemies of ethnic unity.

The six ethnic Karenni youths were sentenced on Nov. 7 by the Loikaw Township Court for issuing a statement that allegedly said the state’s chief minister and minister of planning and finance were traitors to the Karenni people. The six youth issued the statement as a part of public opposition against the state government’s decision to erect a statue of General Aung San in the state capital of Loikaw.

The six were sentenced by the court under Section 10 of Article 8(d) of the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens. Because the six were arrested in June, they are currently scheduled to be released in December.

On Oct. 22, the state government appealed the case to the Loikaw District Court, asking it to nullify the ruling of the township court and increase the prison sentences of the Karenni youth, according to the state’s appeal letter.

“The chief minister is planning to keep us behind bars until after the 2020 election. It is totally unacceptable. He is oppressing us by holding grudges [for expressing opposition against him],” said Ko Khu Khu Peh Kay, one of the Karenni youth activists. He was released from prison on Nov. 25 because he was arrested earlier than the other five activists.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Thursday, he said that the Loikaw District Court told him and the other five youth that they will have to face another court hearing. The hearing for the state government’s appeal is scheduled for Dec. 6.

The Irrawaddy reached out to the Kayah State government and its chief minister on Thursday but was unable to reach them.

Dr. Myo Nyunt, spokesperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the party will not intervene in the issue between the Karenni youth and the Kayah State government as the state is pursuing the case according to the law.

Dr. Myo Nyunt said the continuing disputes between the Karenni activists and the state government would hurt the party’s image but added that the party wouldn’t intervene in the case because it is being handled by the court now.

The state government erected the statue of Gen. Aung San in February 2019 despite protests from local Karenni residents.

The six youth issued their statement in March, accusing the chief minister of acting as a dictator and overseeing raids, lawsuits and violence against Karenni people who had objected to and protested the Gen. Aung San statue.

They also accused the state government of abusing its power to allocate over 140 million kyats (US$92,000) of the state’s road and telecommunications funds for the Gen. Aung San statue, without informing Parliament.

The six Karenni youth who signed the statement—Ko Myo Hlaing Win, Ko Dee De, Ko Khun Thomas, Ko Khu Reedu, Ko Pyar Lay and Ko Khu Khu Peh Kay—were arrested in June and detained for about four months before they were handed their six-month prison sentences.

Karenni activists have said that they have their own history involving their own ethnic leaders and that the statue of Gen. Aung San is a symbol of the dominant role that the interests of the Burmese majority play in the country, compared to the interests of marginalized ethnic minorities. To the activists, the statue is also a symbol of what they see as yet-unfulfilled promises made by the assassinated general at the Panglong Agreement of 1947.

The NLD government has also erected statues of Gen. Aung San in other states amid challenges from local residents.