The Irrawaddy

Karenni Protesters Who Were Detained for Statue Protest Freed on Bail

Demonstrators march in Loikaw on July 3 to protest the regional government’s plan to erect a statue of Gen. Aung San.

MON STATE—Six Karenni youth activists who participated in a July protest against a state government project to erect a statue of General Aung San in the Karenni State capital, Loikaw, were granted bail by a court in the town on Wednesday.

Two of the six had already been released from detention last week, and the other four were freed on Wednesday, according to local sources.

Local authorities charged a total of 23 people who took to the streets to oppose the state government’s plan to build a statue of General Aung San in the capital. Most of the 23 were granted bail after being charged, but six declined to request bail, saying they would fight the case from behind bars.

After almost two months in prison, however, the six decided to request bail and fight the charges from outside of prison, citing the many difficulties they faced dealing with their legal cases while incarcerated.

Dee De, one of the four youth activists released yesterday, told The Irrawaddy that five townships had charged them with violations under two provisions of the penal code.

They were charged under Article 505 (b) and (c) in relation to their distribution of pamphlets ahead of the protest, and articles 19 and 20 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, which regulates protests. Most of the charges were filed by Loikaw Township.

“We have to go to the courts in each of the five townships almost every day. Traveling was very difficult. We’re exhausted. And our prison cell is too small. Therefore, we decided to request bail and deal with the charges from outside,” Dee De said.

The five townships are Loikaw, Demoso, Hpruso, Shandaw and Hpasawng.

He said the six had planned to request that the court grant them bail earlier, but decided to delay the request when they noticed that authorities were detaining more and more people, including many who were not protest leaders. They were worried that their release and subsequent contact with other protesters would fuel authorities’ suspicions and lead to more arrests.

Dee De said his case demonstrated that rule of law remained shaky in Myanmar. He said he had learned that the Karenni State government was intent on prosecuting the 23 youths to the fullest possible extent.

And while the state government has halted the statue project, activists say it could be resumed at any time, despite the fact that the underlying issue has not been resolved.

Myo Hlaing Win, another detainee who was released yesterday, said, “We are youth, and we are educated. We have our dignity. But the government devalues us by accusing us of acting like terrorists. It’s upsetting.”

“This is a democratically elected government, but it acts like a military regime. They should not act like this. We did not act violently. Our protest was very peaceful and simple. We have a right to express our wishes,” he said.

Activists said the authorities falsely accused them of stoking ethnic hatred between the Karenni and Burmese communities, and that their action was an attempt to secede from the Union.

“We did not engage in terrorism. We staged a peaceful protest. We have a right to protest. We distributed pamphlets. We did not encourage our people to be violent,” Dee De said.

“These charges are intended to threaten our political activities. The charges were intended to oppress us,” the youth activist said.