Veteran Myanmar Activist Faces Hate Speech Charges

By The Irrawaddy 9 May 2021

The prominent democracy activist Ko Mya Aye, who has spent more than three months behind bars since the February coup, faces hate speech charges under Article 505(c) of the Penal Code for incitement, which carries up to two years in prison.

According to his family, the regime filed the case against the Muslim activist based on a 2014 email about his work with ethnic armed organizations, Burman ethno-nationalism and the importance of working together for federal democracy.

The email was found on his seized phone. Article 505 prohibit statements which could incite anyone to commit any offence against anyone or any community.

The former 88 Generation student leader and now a leading member of the Federal Democratic Force group, is one of the activists whose homes were surrounded and detained at gunpoint on Feb. 1, immediately after the coup. More than 100 elected leaders, government officials, activists and politicians were also detained during the military takeover.

It was two months before his family learned he was detained in Insein Prison, Yangon, on April 1.

“Even though we are used to this situation, as my father was jailed before, we were really worried as we heard nothing about him for two months,” his daughter Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, a human rights activist based in London, told The Irrawaddy.

Ko Mya Aye was arrested twice under the former junta for his political activism during and after the 1988 uprising and served a total of 12 years in prison. After his release in 2012, the activist continued his unfinished democratic struggles for a federal democracy under both the semi-civilian U Thein Sein government and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, which was overthrown in the coup.

“It is not surprising as they are suing [detainees] with any charges. But it is really absurd to bring such charges which are completely against what my father was doing,” Wai Hnin Pwint Thon said.

The political prisoner is facing trial at a court inside Insein Prison. The regime set up temporary courts inside prisons to hear political cases for “security reasons”. The judge, law officer and defense lawyer are the only outsiders allowed to attend trials inside the prison. No relatives are allowed to attend.

Ko Mya Aye has not seen his family and cannot have open conversations with his lawyer, his daughter said.

“The lawyer said my father told him he doesn’t want to ask any witnesses to testify as he doesn’t trust the judiciary under the junta,” Wai Hnin Pwint Thon said. On May 21, the court will start hear one of the prosecution witnesses.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is tracking killings and detentions since the coup, at least 776 people have been killed and 4,885 individuals were detained, of whom 3,813 remained behind bars.

Ko Mya Aye conveyed a message to pro-democracy activists through released student activists in April, calling on protesters to avoid arrest.

“This is the last battle to win,” he told them.

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