Burma

Three Activists Charged for Unlawful Assembly Over Karen Martyrs’ Day Event in Myanmar

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 13 August 2020

YANGON—Two Karen men and one Burmese woman were charged Wednesday by police under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for holding an event to mark the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day in Yangon.

The death of Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi, who was murdered on Aug. 12, 1950, is commemorated annually as Karen Martyrs’ Day. Saw Ba U Gyi founded the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar’s prominent ethnic armed groups.

On Wednesday morning, Kyauktada Township police detained two Karen activists—Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Hser Kwar Lar—during a commemoration of Karen Martyrs’ Day in the center of Yangon near Maha Bandula Park.

On Monday, authorities in the township denied the Karen organizers’ request for permission to hold the Karen Martyrs’ Day event, citing COVID-19 restrictions. Mass gatherings are banned in Myanmar under the government’s COVID-19-related restrictions.

On Wednesday, police also arrested Burmese activist Daw Sein Htwe, who attended the 70th Karen Martyrs’ Day event, for allegedly absconding from a lawsuit brought against her under the Unlawful Assembly Law last year.

On Wednesday evening, the two Karen activists—Sa Thein Zaw Min and Saw Hser Kwar Lar—were released after police opened lawsuits against them under Article 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, according to Naw Ohn Hla, chair of the Karen Women’s Union (KWU).

Under Article 20, organizers of a gathering can face a maximum sentence of one month in prison and a fine of 10,000 kyats (US$7.31) for failing to properly inform township authorities about a gathering, including details on the kind of activities involved, slogans, speeches, places and times.

Police Colonel Myo Thet of the Kyauktada Police Force told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that police sued the two Karen activists for reading messages that were not mentioned in the letter about the event that they filed with authorities.

Under one of the terms of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, people who join an assembly “must not recite or shout chants other than the ones approved.”

On the same day, the Kyauktada Township Court sent Daw Sein Htwe to Insein Prison as she declined to request bail after being charged under Article 19 of the same law. Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law carries a maximum sentence of three months in jail and a 30,000 kyat fine (US$21.93) for violating any of over a dozen rules on how and when people may assemble.

This week’s arrests mirror a series of arrests that followed last year’s Karen Martyrs’ Day events in Yangon, after which Sa Thein Zaw Min was sentenced to 15 days in prison.

On Oct. 12, 2019, Kyauktada police opened unlawful assembly cases against Daw Sein Htwe and two other activists—Ma Zarchi Linn of the Democracy, Peace and Women (DPW) group and Naw Larshee Htoo of the KWU—for leading a rally in solidarity with three other Karen activists who had earlier been sentenced to 15 days in jail for holding a rally on the 69th Karen Martyrs’ Day in Yangon.

Karen activists Sa Thein Zaw Min, Saw Albert Cho and Daw Naw Ohn Hla, were sentenced to 15 days in prison by the Kyauktada Township Court on Oct. 2, 2019 for the 2019 Karen Martyrs’ Day gathering.

Police Colonel Myo Thet said that Daw Sein Htwe was sued on Wednesday under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Precession Law for leading the solidarity rally last year without informing the township authorities.

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