Terrorism Trial for Civilians in Rakhine Drags On; AA Denies Any Ties

By Min Aung Khine 13 September 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—As dozens of civilians in Rakhine State face trial under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law, their family members have claimed excessive delays in the process and called for a swift trial.

A total of 64 villagers from several villages in Mrauk-U, Kyauktaw and Minbya townships were brought to Sittwe District Court on Thursday to be tried for alleged ties to the Arakan Army (AA), which the Myanmar military considers a terrorist organization. The judge set the next trial date for Sept. 26 but did not hear any testimonies, according to family members of the defendants.

“I want the case to be heard swiftly but there has been no court hearing so far,” said U Maung Thein Mya, father of one defendant from Tin Htein Kan Village in Mrauk-U. “It is like they are already being punished, even though they didn’t do anything wrong.” U Maung Thein Mya’s son and another resident of Tin Htein Kan have been detained by the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, since June 22.

Court officials said there have been delays because of procedural rules about transferring cases between courts and because some of the cases involve fugitives.

“The court said that plaintiffs and prosecution witnesses will be heard at the next hearing,” said U Aye Tun Maung, a representative of local legal aid group Thazin.

“I want them to hear the case promptly,” Ma Thein Ma Yi, the wife of a defendant from Lekka Village in Mrauk-U, told The Irrawaddy. “We have been living in an IDP [internally displaced persons] camp since we fled [from violent clashes]. I can’t afford to come to every court hearing.”

Her husband, Ko Khin Maung Soe, was one of 27 men arrested by the Myanmar military on April 10 in Lekka Village on suspicion of having ties to the AA.

On the night of April 9, the AA launched an attack on a temporary military outpost and a police battalion in Mrauk-U. The Myanmar military searched Lekka the following day and made the arrests.

Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that the 27 people arrested in Lekka are AA fighters disguised as civilians. AA spokesperson Khaing Thukha has denied that the civilians are AA fighters.

Those arrested in Lekka under the Counter-Terrorism Law and the Arms (Temporary Amendment) Act 1949 were charged in the Mrauk-U District Court, according to Thazin. The case was then transferred to Sittwe District Court.

One of the defendants from Lekka is Ko Khin Maung, an ethnic Chin man from Chin State’s Paletwa Township. According to his wife, Ma Yu Yu Khin, the couple traveled by boat from their village to Mrauk-U on April 9 to withdraw money from the bank. When they learned the bank was closed that day, they decided to stay overnight in Lekka. The following day, Ko Khin Maung was arrested.

“Our children miss their father. It is not easy to come from my village to Sittwe and I can’t afford transportation costs,” said Ma Yu Yu Khin.

Two of the defendants from Lekka Village are minors and were granted bail. They are being tried at a juvenile court in Mrauk-U.

Residents of Lekka also report that detainees were tortured during interrogation by the Tatmadaw.

Three Lekka residents, ages 25, 35 and 41, died in military detention. The Tatmadaw said one of the deaths was a suicide, one was related to a heart condition and another was drug-related.

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said a postmortem was carried out at Sittwe Public Hospital in accordance with official procedures and was reported to the police.

Family members of those who died in custody were not allowed to see the bodies and expressed doubts about the Tatmadaw’s statements.

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