A prominent Myanmar activist and his two colleagues were freed from prison on Thursday after a court exempted them from making a payment for bail in a defamation case brought against them for speaking out against an alleged land grab.
Htin Kyaw, an ex-political prisoner, and his two fellow activists had been held in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison since the evening of May 23 after they refused to post bail.
The three are charged with defamation for remarks they made at a press conference in February to raise concerns about land that they said was taken from local residents in central Yangon—the country’s biggest city—and sold to a businessman, restaurant owner Eik Linn.
In their first hearing of the defamation case last week, the judge had set bail at 500,000 kyat (U.S. $530) which Htin Kyaw refused to post, saying he was prepared to go to jail to defend the truth, according to a report.
On Thursday, the judge removed the bail fee and ruled the three could be released provided they do not avoid trial.
“The judge said today that we don’t need to post the 500,000 kyat bail,” Htin Kyaw told RFA’s Myanmar Service after his release.
The court hearing was attended by residents from central Yangon’s Mayangone and Thingangkuun townships who said they had lost their homes on land that was sold to the restauranteur.
The three activists are charged with defaming Eik Linn under Article 500 of the country’s penal code, which carries a punishment of up to two years in prison.
They were jailed a day after Htin Kyaw staged a solo protest in the city over a separate issue, calling for charges to be laid against the grandson of former Myanmar junta leader General Than Shwe for allegedly assaulting a traffic policeman, according to local media.
At the protest, he said police had refused to accept his application to file charges against the grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung, for the alleged March 14 assault, the Myanmar Times reported.
Htin Kyaw is a longtime activist who was previously held in Insein Prison in 2007 for his activism under Myanmar’s former military junta, and was released in January last year in a prisoner amnesty under President Thein Sein’s reform program.
His brief imprisonment this month came after authorities threw another activist ex-political prisoner back in jail to serve a sentence that had previously been pardoned in a presidential amnesty. The activist, Nay Myo Zin, was later freed, but critics called the case a setback for reforms.
Reported by Kyaw Tun Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.