SITTWE, RAKHINE – Local authorities conducted a makeshift hearing of eight detainees in Sittwe prison instead of the local courthouse amid concern about security and the health of the suspects, who all suffered gunshot wounds during a riot in Mrauk-U in northern Rakhine State last month.
On Jan. 16, thousands of Mrauk-U residents staged a protest 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 severely wounding 12.
Authorities quickly transferred eight of the wounded protestors to Sittwe General Hospital from Mrauk-U, while the other four received medical treatment at Mrauk-U Hospital. A few days later, authorities shackled the eight patients in the prison ward of Sittwe hospital, before moving them to Sittwe prison in early February.
The lawyers of the accused explained that although authorities had initially planned to bring the eight suspects to Mrauk-U township court, four of the suspects’ bullet wounds had not healed sufficiently as of Feb. 20 so it was decided to hold the court session in the Sittwe prison.
U Tun Aung Kyaw, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawyer for the defendants, said that he went to Mrauk-U Township to attend the court hearing but the session was abruptly canceled and so he came back to Sittwe prison. As for the arrest of the eight Mrauk-U residents, former ANP chairman U Aye Maung and author Wai Han Aung, he said the ANP has established a six-member group to provide them with legal assistance.
In mid-January, U Aye Maung and Wai Han Aung were detained by Sittwe police on charges of delivering racially motivated hate speech during a Rathedaung literary talk, which authorities said could cause disunity among the majority Bamar and Rakhine communities.
Family members of the accused told The Irrawaddy that they were not allowed to treat the wounds of the detainees.
“My son was severely wounded by the unexpected opening of fire by police and also arrested,” said U Aye Maung Thein, the father of a suspect. “I have no idea about court procedure or law. At the same time, we have to take care of our daily lives as well. I feel overcome with grief whenever I think about the charges against my son.”
Eight Arakanese were charged under article 6 (1) of destroying government property and public assets. The next court hearing for the eight suspects is scheduled for March 6.