Ac­tivists jailed over protests in Myan­mar

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

>> YANGON: A court in Myan­mar’s restive Kachin state has jailed three ac­tivists for de­fam­ing the mil­i­tary, their lawyer said yes­ter­day, as cam­paign­ers slammed the “chill­ing warn­ing” the ver­dict sends crit­i­cal voices in the coun­try.

Lum Zawng, Nang Pu and Zau Jet had helped or­gan­ise an anti-war demon­stra­tion in April in the state cap­i­tal My­itky­ina to high­light the plight of thou­sands dis­placed by fight­ing be­tween the mil­i­tary and eth­nic Kachin in­sur­gents.

The youth lead­ers were sen­tenced on Fri­day to six months in prison and fined about US$320 (10,500 baht) each.

Kachin is in the grip of one of the world’s longest-run­ning civil wars, as rebels have clashed with the pow­er­ful mil­i­tary for six decades over au­ton­omy, eth­nic iden­tity, drugs, jade and other nat­u­ral re­sources in the north­east.

Fight­ing surged dra­mat­i­cally this year, forc­ing thou­sands to flee to camps in re­mote parts of the state with in­ad­e­quate ac­cess to aid.

In late April, amid pub­lic anger over the fresh vi­o­lence, the three youth lead­ers or­gan­ised a peace­ful protest de­mand­ing help for the peo­ple tak­ing refuge in camps.

It also sparked protests in Yangon and Man­dalay in a rare show of sol­i­dar­ity.

The de­fence told the court that the lead­ers had “no in­ten­tion” of de­fam­ing the Tat­madaw, as the mil­i­tary is called in Myan­mar, and were more con­cerned with the fate of the dis­placed peo­ple, lawyer Doi Bu said.

“But the court viewed them as harm­ing the Tat­madaw,” she said, ad­ding that they plan to ap­peal to­mor­row.

The Euro­pean Union said it “deeply re­grets” the court’s de­ci­sion and called for the sen­tences to be re­viewed.

Three other ac­tivists protested the ver­dict by march­ing in front of the court, prompt­ing po­lice to charge them for “protest­ing with­out per­mis­sion”.

They were bailed and will face trial later. “These jail sen­tences re­flect a pat­tern of con­tin­ued at­tacks” against civil so­ci­ety speak­ing out against the mil­i­tary, said Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Ti­rana Has­san.

“It sends a chill­ing warn­ing to (any­one) who wants to tell the truth about the Myan­mar mil­i­tary’s bru­tal­ity in Kachin and north­ern Shan states.”

Rights groups es­ti­mate more than 106,000 peo­ple lan­guish in camps across con­flict-torn Kachin and Shan states.

Eth­nic Kachin are mainly Chris­tians in a na­tion that has an over­whelm­ingly Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity.

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