A court in Mohnyin Township, Kachin State sentenced two members of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) to two years in prison yesterday, the leader of the group said.
ABSDF chairman U Than Khe told The Irrawaddy on Friday, “The verdict was unfair. We strongly condemn it.”
U Aung Swe Oo and U Maung Oo were arrested in December last year and charged under the Unlawful Association Act’s Article 17(1) after traveling to a conflict zone in Mohnyin Township to attend the funeral of a member of their organization. It is customary for senior members of the group to attend the funeral of a member who dies, in order to show support for the family.
At the time of their arrest, both men were carrying documents showing they were legally allowed to travel, U Than Khe said.
The ABSDF is an armed group. It signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Myanmar government in 2015. U Than Khe said his organization’s members were free to travel under the terms of the agreement.
The organization also signed a state government-level ceasefire in 2013. This agreement also entitles all members of the group to travel freely in the country, he said.
The ABSDF formed in 1988 after the nationwide uprising that year. Its members are based in different ethnic areas, U Than Khe said, adding that the government had violated its agreement to allow them freedom of travel.
“The agreement made it very clear that all members of our organization could travel freely,” he said.
“We have found that there is no responsibility or accountability for [enforcing the] agreement; it is very weak. They [the government) should show accountability for our two colleagues based on our agreement. They should release them,” he said.
He said the actions of the government and the Myanmar Army in this case would raise many questions for other ethnic armed organizations that are negotiating peace deals with the government.
This is the second time members of the ABSDF have been sentenced in prison. U Min Htay was jailed in 2017, also after being arrested in Kachin State.
U Than Khe said many members of the ABSDF were disappointed in the actions of the Myanmar Army, believing it demonstrated that the Army did not respect the peace agreement. Some of the members said it would be hard for them to trust the military in future peace negotiations.
“We are an organization who worked for peace with them. But still they treat us badly. So I’m really worried their actions will reduce people’s trust in peace negotiations,” he said.