Pardoned Burmese Social Activist Back to Prison in Reform 'Setback'

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A section of protesting farmers in Ayeyarwady division's Maubin township, Feb. 26, 2013.
A section of protesting farmers in Ayeyarwady division's Maubin township, Feb. 26, 2013.

Authorities in Burma have thrown a pardoned political prisoner who has been critical of the nation's police back in jail in the first case of its kind in the country, activists and family members said Wednesday.

Social campaigner Nay Myo Zin was ordered to serve six years of a sentence he got for a conviction in 2011, raising concerns among the country's thousands of ex-political prisoners over their ability to freely engage in democracy, the activists said.

He was freed in January 2012 as part of reformist President Thein Sein's mass amnesty, a year after he was jailed for 10 years under the draconian Electronics Transactions Act in 2011.

He was released under a provision of the law which gives the president powers to "remit the whole or part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced" at any time.

"The case of Nay Myo Zin sends a strong message to thousands of released political prisoners who have similarly been released under Article 401 (1): 'You are not free,'" the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said in a statement.

"His sentence greatly harms the human rights of released political prisoners and their ability to openly and freely engage in democracy and the national reconciliation process," said AAPP (B) Secretary Tate Naing.

Tun Kyi, another member of the AAPP (B), called for the abolition of Article 401.


Nay Myo Zin was arrested in January 2013 on charges he defamed the police while backing a demonstration by farmers calling for the return of confiscated land in Pantanaw township in Ayeyarwady division.

He was fined 20,000 kyat (U.S. $22) or three months in jail for accusing police officers of being corrupt.

Nay Myo Zin opted to go to prison rather than pay what he called an "unjust" fine, saying the defamation charges were baseless.

A group of farmers, however, paid the fine.

But just before he was freed, a district administrator came into Maubin prison on Tuesday and read an order by Home Affairs Minister Ko Ko stating that he has to serve six years in jail from the previous sentence of 2011, his younger brother, Khin Maung Htwe, told RFA's Burmese Service.

Nay Myo Zin told his brother that "it is very unfair to sentence him like this" at a time when Thein Sein is implementing political and other reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

"He asked us to make an appeal as soon as possible. We will discuss his case with some lawyers and will try for an appeal," Khin Maung Htwe said.          


Farmers plan to send a petition to Thein Sein demanding Nay Myo Zin's freedom.

"It shows that we still have unfair laws for people in Burma, and it is like stopping people who are helping in the country’s development," said Thein Win, chairman of the Development Union for Fishermen and Farmers in Pantanaw township.

"What he did is not reflective of the charges he faces. That’s why we, the union and local farmers, will sign a petition demanding his freedom, and those signatures will be sent to the president."

Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu of the 88 Generation Student Group said that ordering political prisoners who have been given amnesty to serve their remaining sentences is a "regressive step" and raises doubts about the government's reform program.

"We shouldn’t be very optimistic about this as all ex-political prisoners could be in jail again, at any time," he said.

Reported by Ei Ei Khaine and Khin Pyi Sone for RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.





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