MANDALAY – A court in Aung Myay Tharsan Township on Thursday sentenced two men to three months’ imprisonment for participating in peace protests in Mandalay in May.
The men were convicted of violating Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Ko Than Htike and Ko Thet Hnin Aung were arrested on May 12 in a shopping district in Mandalay as they handed out questionnaires in a bid to elicit locals’ views on the peace process and armed conflicts around the country.
Plainclothes police officers arrested them under Article 19 of the law for participating in protests earlier in the month. The protests called for an end to armed conflict and demanded authorities help villagers trapped in conflict zones in Kachin State.
“In a genuine democracy, people are not arrested or subject to legal action for expressing their thoughts in public,” Ko Than Htike said after the court session.
“As long as the Peaceful Assembly Act is in force, many people like us across the country will face prosecution and there will be no freedom of expression. Our actions were taken for the sake of peace. Taking action against those who speak out for peace runs counter to the national peace process,” he added.
The two men were eligible for bail but opted to defend themselves from behind bars. The two months they have spent in detention will be put toward their sentence, leaving them with one month left to serve.
Three other peace protesters from Mandalay who were arrested during the May protests — Ko Kalint, Ko Aung Hmine San and Ko Soe Naing — were earlier sentenced to two-month jail terms. All three were released in the past week after completing the sentences.
In addition to being imprisoned, Ko Kalint, a poet who also worked on the civilian staff of the military’s Central Command based in Mandalay, was fired for participating in the protest.
His younger brother, who worked on the civilian municipal staff at the same military office, was fired for being the brother of a peace protester.
In May, protests calling for assistance to trapped villagers in war-torn Kachin State and an end to the nation’s many armed conflicts were held in many cities including Mandalay, Yangon and Prome in Bago Region. These were followed by the opening of a protest camp in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin. Thousands of locals have been displaced by a recent flare-up in the fighting in the state.
The protest camp in Myitkyina was broken up following the arrest of a number of peace protesters. Protests and peace movements in other cities were also ended amid arrests and prosecutions.
Lawsuits relating to violations of the Peaceful Assembly Act were filed against 17 peace activists from Yangon, six from Mandalay and two from Prome. Many of these cases are ongoing.