SITTWE—Prosecution and defense lawyers will present their final arguments to the court later this month on whether eight Arakanese youths detained in connection with a protest in Rakhine State’s Mrauk-U in January should be tried.
The court heard from the last prosecution witnesses in the case on Monday, and lawyers on both sides will present their closing arguments in the first phase of the trial to Sittwe Court on Aug. 13, prosecution lawyer U Tun Aung Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.
Thousands of Mrauk-U residents staged a protest on Jan. 16 after officials banned a memorial event to mark the 233rd anniversary of the end of the Arakan Dynasty. Local police opened fire on the crowd, killing seven and wounding 12.
Eight of the wounded sustained serious injuries and were transferred to Sittwe Hospital. A few days later, authorities shackled the eight patients in the hospital’s prison ward, before moving them to Sittwe Prison in early February.
Police opened cases against the eight under Article 6 (1) for allegedly destroying government property and public assets.
A list of 16 prosecution witnesses was presented to the court in connection with the case, but only 12 including police officials appeared at the court. Four other officials including the Mrauk-U district administrator failed to appear as they had been transferred to other areas.
“It is the rainy season now, and they will have to travel long distances to get here from their current locations. So, in accordance with court procedures, the four will have to testify at the courts in their areas, and their testimony will be sent to Sittwe Court,” U Tun Aung Kyaw said.
Only four of the eight detainees, all of whom were injured during the police crackdown on protesters, have fully recovered from their wounds. Three still need crutches to walk, and a fourth still cannot use his injured arm.
“Having to attend the trial has caused us many problems. It disrupts our work,” said U Aye Maung Thein, the father of one of the detainees.
“Police opened fire on people who were expressing their views. [In addition to their injuries] the government has prosecuted them. If the Arakanese people are to be shot whenever they express views the government doesn’t agree with, then we don’t want this government,” he told The Irrawaddy.