YANGON — Union lawmaker U Aye Maung and author Ko Wai Han Aung were charged with high treason by the Sittwe District Court on Friday, according to the author’s lawyer, Daw Aye Nu Sein.
The two were arrested in mid-January for allegedly promoting support for the outlawed Arakan Army in public speeches they had recently delivered in Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township.
After his speech in Rathedaung, U Aye Maung was invited by a local charity to join a literature talk in the town of Mrauk-U on Jan. 16 to mark the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Arakanese kingdom. When authorities abruptly banned the event, a protest broke out and seven civilians were shot dead in the police crackdown that followed.
A few days later, the Ministry of Home Affairs released a lengthy statement accusing U Aye Maung and Ko Wai Han Aung of having destabilized the community with their recent remarks. A prominent ethnic Arakanese politician, U Aye Maung had recently resigned as chairman of the Arakan National Party.
Sittwe residents said security was tight around the district court on Friday for the pair’s appearance.
Speaking with journalists outside the court, U Aye Maung denied wrongdoing.
“I did not say that Bamar people regard the Rakhine [Arakan] as slaves and I am very upset when I see such terms in the newspaper. I just spoke about national unity and was not fueling anger between the Rakhine and Bamar,” he said.
U Aye Maung and Ko Wai Han Aung were both charged with unlawful association and defamation by the Rathedaung Township Court last week. U Ban Than, who organized the event at which the pair delivered their speeches, was still at large as of Friday.
Ko Wai Han Aung’s elder brother Ko Thein Win told The Irrawaddy by phone on Friday that the defendants were allowed to meet with their families for about 10 minutes. He said his brother told him that his arrest “was unjust.”
Their next appearance at the district court is scheduled for Feb. 21.
High treason carries a possible death sentence or prison with hard labor for life.