Myanmar Court Slaps Additional Jail Time on Imprisoned Mine Activists

The sentence is the latest for the pair, who protested a police killing in December.

Myanmar police officers stand guard in front of the Chinese embassy in Yangon, Dec. 29, 2014.

A court in Myanmar on Friday imposed additional jail terms on two activists imprisoned for protesting the shooting death of an unarmed woman outside a Chinese-owned copper mine in the country’s Sagaing region in December.

The Kyauktada township court in Yangon handed Nay Myo Zin and Naw Ohn Hla four months each for holding an unauthorized demonstration outside of the Chinese Embassy on Dec. 29 against the police killing of villager Khin Win during a protest at the Letpadaung mine site a week earlier.

The pair were convicted under Article 18 of the Act on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession—one of four charges used by Yangon’s Dagon township court in May to sentence them and four other activists to four years and four months each for the December protest.

Following the sentencing, retired Army-captain Nay Myo Zin told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his total jail term is now five years, while Naw Ohn Hla must serve six years and five months.

“I received an additional four-month jail sentences today … and now have five years in total,” he said.

“Naw Ohn Hla received a four-month jail sentence for protesting against Chinese Embassy with me, as well as another four months for her [Sept. 29, 2014] protest” calling for the release of political prisoners, he said.

In addition to the convictions from Kyauktada and Dagon townships, the two activists have also been sentenced by courts in Alone and Latha townships for their part in the Chinese Embassy protest. They face additional charges related to the incident in Pabedan and Lamdataw townships.

In April, Naw Ohn Hla was handed a four-month sentence for her September 2014 protest calling for the release of political prisoners, while in June she was given six months for conducting a peaceful prayer vigil eight years ago for the release from house arrest of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nay Myo Zin is facing charges under Article 18 in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township for a protest against a controversial amendment to the National Education Law in November last year.

The two have been held in Yangon’s Insein Prison since their arrest following the December protests calling for the closure of the Chinese Letpadaung mine venture in Sagaing’s Monywa township, whose Chinese operator, Wanbao Co., residents say has orchestrated land grabs and caused environmental damage.

Controversial mine

The protests were sparked by the Dec. 22 police killing of Khin Win, a woman who had joined other protesters attempting to prevent Wanbao from fencing off land for the project for which villagers said they had not received adequate compensation. Authorities have yet to charge anyone in her death.

Another violent showdown between villagers and police occurred in November 2012 when officers used smoke bombs containing phosphorus—a highly flammable chemical—to break up protests against the copper mine project. Dozens of anti-mine protesters, including Buddhist monks, were injured in the incident.

In May, following their sentencing by the Dagon township court, Naw Ohn Hla told reporters the lengthy jail terms suggested authorities wanted to keep her, Nay Myo Zin and the other four activists Than Swe, Tin Htut Paing, Sein Htwe and San San Win locked up during national elections scheduled for Nov. 8.

The Switzerland-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), strongly condemned the sentencing and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

Saffron remembered

Friday’s court decision came as a group of monks and activists gathered in Yangon to mark the eighth anniversary of the failed Saffron Revolution against Myanmar’s former military regime, holding a moment of silence for the more than 30 people killed during the ensuing crackdown by authorities.

Following the event, participants released a statement calling on the government to hold free and fair elections in November and to release the country’s remaining political prisoners—in line with the reform goals of the monks who led the democracy movement in 2007.

“We demand the release of political prisoners, detained farmers and workers,” said Ashin Agga, a monk who participated in Saffron Revolution and who was present at Friday’s gathering.

“We also call on the government to hold free and fair elections in November and to cease all fighting with armed ethnic groups,” he said.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), there were 108 political prisoners incarcerated in Myanmar as of the end of August, with 459 activists currently awaiting trial for political actions.

Expressing gratitude

Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation democracy movement, expressed gratitude to the monks who led the Saffron Revolution and praised the example they set for those seeking reform in Myanmar, which transitioned to a quasi-civilian government under President Thein Sein following elections in 2011.

“We believe that you all will stand for justice together with us during important turning points in our country,” he said, adding that the 88 Generation pledged to “stay close” to the Buddhist clergy amid any threats to freedom and democracy.

While some say the Saffron Revolution calling for democratic reform has led to positive changes in Myanmar, others contend that the goals of the movement were never met.

Many who took part in the revolution say they are still waiting for an apology from authorities for their actions against protesters during the crackdown, which also saw hundreds of monks arrested.

Reported by Khin Pyae Son, Aung Theinkha and Bhone Myat for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.