Second Group of Activists Arrested, Detained in Loikaw

By Lawi Weng 7 February 2019

Police have detained 36 right activists after a crackdown on a protest camp in front of the NLD’s local office in the Karenni state capital of Loikaw this evening according to sources at the scene. Police took away and arrested the protesters one-by-one from where they were sitting on the ground with arms linked. They were loaded into awaiting police trucks and taken away and those remaining at the camp location were ordered to leave.

The group were protesting the installation of a bronze statue of Gen. Aung San in the town park, and have said the ethnic communities deserve to have statues of their own politicians and freedom fighters instead.

Khun Thomas, a leading member of the group and one of those detained told The Irrawaddy over the phone soon after their arrest that all 36 activists were being detained at Loikaw Police Station.

“We all are at the police station. They have not yet told us which article they will charge us under,” said Khun Thomas.

This is the same action as previously when the state government and police brought in bad people to work together to crack down on our protest, he added.

“We did not do anything wrong based on the law. We just practiced our right to protest. It was wrong for them to crack down on our protest,” he said.

“The crackdown would hurt the image of the government, and there will be more problems for the government over the poor handling of the issue,” he said.

When more problems come in the future, the chief minister of Karenni State L Paung Sho has to take responsibility, he said.

A group of members of the authorities, including police officers and township officials, had earlier announced to the group, that they would be charged under Article 19 of the Peacefully Assembly Act if they did not disband, according to sources at the scene.

U Kyaw Moe, a Loikaw Township government official, and police officer U Win Naing, came to the camp earlier in the day to convince the activists to disband the camp, saying the police would take action against them if they didn’t leave the site.

The authorities and right activists held an hour-long discussion, during which U Kyaw Moe described himself as a negotiator rather than a representative of the government. He told the activists, “Your group’s actions are unlawful. I came to negotiate for your group not to have a problem.”

He said that he wasn’t going to be the person to lead the crackdown on the protest camp, but that he came forward as negotiator in order to avoid the action that the authorities said they would take soon.

Police officer U Win Naing told the group of activists that they would be charged under Article 19 for holding the protest without permission, as stipulated in Article 19.

“Your group has not acted within the law. You have stayed here long enough already. We have to take action. We have to disband the camp,” said U Win Naing.

Khu Kyu Thae Kay, a leader of the protesting group replied to the authorities that, based on the 2008 Constitution, everyone has the right to protest and that no one may take action against them unless the protest becomes violent.

He added that the group had requested permission to set up a protest camp, but that the township authorities, including the police, rejected their request.

“Has there ever been a time when ethnic minorities were given permission by you to protest for their rights?” Khu Kyu Thae Kay asked U Win Naing during the discussion.

Township authorities rejected the group’s permission to hold a protest on two occasions, according to the right activists. Their first request was to protest at the park where Gen. Aung San’s statue has been erected.

“We knew what they would tell us when they came. But we refuse to go home. We will keep protesting,” said Khun Thomas, just hours before the group was dragged into awaiting police trucks by a large group of police officers.

“No one has come from the NLD to negotiate with us, so why should we go home?” he added.

The protest camp was established on Sunday by a group of youths who rejected the installation of the statue. On Friday, a group of 20 rights activists were arrested and charged under Article 19 for holding a protest at the park where the statue has been erected. Those who were charged on Friday were part of the group who reestablished the protest camp in front NLD office two days later.