A court in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on Friday accepted evidence submitted by police in a terrorism case against eight Rakhine state residents accused of raising funds for a rebel ethnic army.
The evidence, a document release on July 10 by Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, was presented by Police Major Tint Swe following complaints by defense lawyers in an earlier hearing that an article taken from Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper could not officially represent the ministry’s views.
In a statement Friday, West Yangon District Court spokesperson Zaw Zaw Tun said that Tint Swe’s submission of the Ministry statement had been accepted by the court.
“The plaintiff submitted the July 10, 2019 release from the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs as evidence. The court has accepted it, and will now proceed to hearing testimony from the plaintiff,” Saw Saw Tun said.
The eight Rakhines—seven men and one woman—were formally charged in August under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly providing support to the rebel Arakan Army in its fight against government forces in northern Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state.
Singapore authorities deported six of the group in July after they were accused of using the country as a platform to build support for armed violence in Rakhine through their organization, the Arakanese Association-Singapore (AAS).
Myanmar authorities took them into custody upon their arrival home, while two others remain at large.
Among the suspects remanded at the Western Yangon District Court was Aung Myat Kyaw, younger brother of Arakan Army (AA) commander-in-chief Major General Tun Myat Naing.
Designation as terrorists
The AAS is believed to be raising funds for the AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy in Rakhine state, and to be providing relief aid and money for social activities to ethnic Rakhines displaced by war in the northern part of the state.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, Aung Kyaw Sein—an attorney representing three of the accused Rakhines—said the men should never have been charged under Myanmar’s Counter-Terrorism Law, adding that the AA’s parent organization, the United League for Arakan (ULA), has been asked government peace commissioners to join other ethnic armies in signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement.
“If they had been formally designated as a terrorist group, there would be no reason to meet or talk with them,” he said. “The ULA/AA has not been designated as a terrorist group yet, so we are arguing that charging our clients under the Counter-Terrorism Law is not legal.”
Myanmar’s military has however said it regards the Arakan Army as a terrorist group following AA attacks on police outposts and has ordered its forces to wipe out the rebel army.
In court proceedings in Yangon today, Police Major was examined by defense attorneys, with questioning continuing tomorrow.
Fourteen witnesses summoned for the defense will next testify in 18 court hearings over three months, with the entire case expected to take 270 days to complete.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.