Six Months Behind Bars for Kachin Peaceful Protesters

By Zarni Mann 7 December 2018

MANDALAY—Locals of Myitkyina staged a protest on Friday against the decision of the township court of Myitkyina, which sentenced three Kachin activists to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 kyats ($322), under Article 500 of Myanmar’s Penal Code.

About 60 locals, led by a number of rights activists, gathered outside the court compound shouting slogans and holding placards showing their disagreement with the court’s decision, before marching to Manaw Park in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.

“We are shocked by the decision of the court because we believed the court would release them because what [the Kachin activists] have done is just saving people who are suffering due to armed conflict,” said Awang Jar, a member of Kachin Women’s Network.

The protesters told The Irrawaddy that they see the trial of the three Kachin activists as proof that the rule of law in Myanmar is at risk and that there is a lack of democracy under the government, despite labeling itself democratic.

“The government says they are a democratic government but we now clearly see that there is no democracy, no freedom of expression and the rule of law is still too weak to protect us,” Awang Jar said.

The three sentenced protesters, Lum Zawng, Zau Jat and Nang Pu, are accused of defamation of the military for participating in peaceful protests in April which urged the government to help the trapped locals of the Tanai area who fled from fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the military.

The protesters said that Kachin organizations and rights groups are gathering now to issue a statement to condemn the court’s decision and to urge the government and responsible individuals to urge for the immediate release of the activists.

“What we say to and urge the government is that to help the people is not to defame the government or the military,” Lum Zawng said to journalists gathered in front of the court before he was transferred to prison.

According to the protesters, if the accused cannot pay the 500,000 kyats fine, they will receive an additional six months’ imprisonment.

“We feel this is unfair. Our lawsuit shows that the rule of law in our country is at the worse state and we were saddened by the decision of the court,” Lum Zawng added.

The trio said they submitted evidence from the locals of Tanai, who were suffering due to the conflict, to the court in their defense but the court did not review them and instead sentenced the activists to imprisonment and a fine.

“The military official who sued us said that we showed fake evidence at the press conference which we held in April so we submitted all the pieces of evidence to the court. We were surprised by the decision of the court,” said Nang Pu, director of Htoi Gender and Development Foundation.

“We have submitted many concrete [pieces of] evidence of women and children suffering and hiding in the forest in Tanai. The decision of the court shows that our country is not a democratic country and the lack of rule of law is threatening the right to information,” she added.

According to their families, they are going to submit an appeal to a higher court.

The three are accused by Lt-Col Myo Min Oo from the military’s Northern Command who filed criminal defamation complaints under Article 500 of the Penal Code on May 8.

Shortly after the sentencing, the EU Delegation to Myanmar issued a statement condemning the sentence of the three Kachin Activists.

“Protests for peace and for saving people trapped by violent conflict should not be criminalized. The EU Delegation to Myanmar deeply regrets the court’s decision and calls on the authorities to review the sentence and ensure conditions for activists to make use of their human rights to protest and to freedom of expression without having to fear legal repercussions,” said the statement issued on Friday.