A Myanmar military officer was on Friday ordered jailed for two years for signing an opposition-led petition calling for amendments to the country’s military-drafted constitution in what is believed to be the first case of its kind since the country began embracing reforms more than three years ago.
Major Kyaw Zwar Win has been under detention since April, and his family was not allowed to visit him during the eight months he was under custody.
He said after the conviction by a military tribunal that he was being punished for violating military rules.
“I was charged under Article 65 of the military code for violating military rules and under Article 41(E) which is for disobedience of a military order,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service as he was leaving the tribunal hearing in the town of Pyin Oo Lwin, 67 kilometers (42 miles) from Mandalay in the north of Myanmar.
“I was sentenced to jail because I signed the petition while the NLD [National League for Democracy party] was collecting signatures for the constitutional amendment,” he said while about to be taken to Obo Prison in Mandalay.
“There is an order in the army to not get involved in amending Article 436, and I was given two-year imprisonment because I signed the petition.”
Article 436 of the constitution effectively gives the military, which controls 25 percent of seats in parliament, a veto over constitutional amendments, since it requires more than 75 percent of parliamentary representatives to approve any changes.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that getting rid of the military’s veto is the first step needed to pave the way for other amendments that can speed up political reforms in the country.
Kyaw Zwar Win, was arrested in early April by the military on the same day he was photographed signing the petition, which eventually drew about five million signatures.
The petition was initiated by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party and the influential activist 88 Generation student group which called on people nationwide, including military personnel, to back the signature campaign.
The NLD and Generation 88 student group also have called for amendments to Article 59(F), which prohibits Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her two sons are not citizens of Myanmar.
Arrest and detention
Kyaw Zwar Win, a graduate of the Defense Services Technological Academy, was working for an engineering unit in Pyin Oo Lwin, where campaigners were collecting signatures, according to a report by The Irrawaddy.
He said he was not permitted to have visitors or read any material while he was detained for nearly eight months while awaiting a decision by a military tribunal.
One of Kyaw Swar Win’s relatives told The Irrawaddy in late November that the soldier signed the petition at the request of a friend who was an NLD member, but did not know exactly what the document was.
The military had initially denied that it arrested him in connection with the petition and had spread the word that he was detained for releasing a corporal who had deserted his unit in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to The Irrawaddy report.
The military, however, already had taken disciplinary action against him for the Rakhine state case in July, one of Kyaw Swar Win’s family members told the online journal.
The soldier’s sentencing comes amid debate following parliament’s call for six-way talks among Aung San Suu Kyi, President Thein Sein, the speakers of the two houses of parliament, military chief Min Aung Hlaing, and a member of a party representing ethnic minorities to discuss changes to the constitution.
Thein Sein has not officially responded to parliament yet, but his spokesman had said that the talks would be “impractical,” prompting speculation that the president and military lawmakers are reluctant to discuss amending the constitution.
Lawmaker Min Thu of the NLD told RFA this week that military representatives in parliament sent a letter to the party, saying they wanted to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi during upcoming parliamentary meetings.
They intend to invite her to dinner to forge better ties and said they would let the NLD know about the date, he said.
Earlier, the military lawmakers declined a dinner invitation from Aung San Suu Kyi.
Reported by Aung Ko Ko from RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.