Student activist sentenced to 15 years in prison in Myanmar’s Kayin State

Kaung Set Naing was arrested near the Thai-Myanmar border a year ago and charged with anti-terrorism offenses.
By RFA Burmese
Student activist sentenced to 15 years in prison in Myanmar’s Kayin State Kaung Set Naing, who was a student at Magway Medical University before the Feb. 1, 2021 coup.
Citizen journalist

UPDATED AT 3:36 PM ET ON 12-01-2022

A student leader who took part in anti-junta protests in Myanmar’s Magway region has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a court in Kayin State.

Myawaddy District Court handed down his sentence, under Section 49(a) of the Counter-Terrorist Act, on Wednesday, a fellow activist told RFA on condition of anonymity.

Kaung Set Naing was the student leader of Magway city’s Medical University when the military seized power on Feb. 1, 2021.

The 23–year-old went undercover after a junta crackdown on protests, according to his friends. He was arrested on Dec. 6, 2021 at a military checkpoint between Kayin State’s Myawaddy township and Lay Kay Kaw new town.

One friend told RFA he was tortured for a week in a military camp before being sent to the local prison.

“He was arrested and tortured in the interrogation, that’s all we knew. We heard he was still in Myawaddy prison for about a year,” said the friend, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

“He was sentenced to 15 years on allegations of supporting the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw [the former parliament], the National Unity Government and People’s Defense Forces.”

Kaung Set Naing’s family recently traveled from Magway to Myawaddy to request his transfer to a prison closer to home, according to his friends. He has had no contact with them since his arrest.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), a total of 16,472 people were arrested nationwide in the 22 months since the coup, of which 13,002 are still being held in prison.

The Myanmar junta’s secret court inside Insein Prison has sentenced 7 Dagon University students to death. Credit: Dagon University Student Union

Sentenced to death

News of Kaung Set Naing's jail term came amid reports that a secret military court in Insein Prison on Wednesday sentenced 7 student activists from Yangon’s Dagon University to death under Article 302 of Myanmar's Penal Code for the alleged killing of a retired army officer.

Speaking on Thursday, Dagon University Student Union Chairman Min Han Htet told RFA he had confirmed the sentencing with a parent of one of the convicted students, who he said knows all 7 of them and regularly attended their trial proceedings.

"He confirmed the news about the death sentence," he said. "It's about the shooting at Kaba Yadanar Bank. They were arrested for the incident in which the bank manager was killed.”

On April 18, former Lieutenant Colonel Saw Moe Win was killed in a shooting at the Kaba Yadanar Bank in Yangon's South Dagon township, which he managed. Dagon University students Khant Zin Win, Thura Maung Maung, Zaw Linn Naing, Thiha Htet Zaw, Hein Htet, Thet Paing Oo, Khant Linn Maung Maung -- all males -- were arrested for the killing three days later and charged with murder.

Sources who declined to be named, citing fear of reprisal, said that an execution date had been set for Dec. 7, although RFA was unable to independently confirm the claim.

When contacted by RFA, Naing Win, spokesperson for the junta’s Prison Department, confirmed that the 7 students had been sentenced, but denied that the sentence would be carried out next week.

“There is a process that must take place after the death sentence is given," he said.

"They could appeal the decision to the president or head of state. This process could take several months. The news that they shall be executed on a certain day is unfounded ... There is no such rush for executing cases like that.”

However, a legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity citing security concerns told RFA that the junta has no intention of amending the sentences, even if the students appeal it.

“They may have opened the door for appeal, as a procedure, but I don’t think they will reduce the sentences," he said, noting that only junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing can overturn the death penalty.

'Barbaric' closed-trial sentences

Nan Linn, a former member of the University Students Union, called the sentencing of someone to death in a closed trial "barbaric."

“There was no transparency in the prosecution and sentencing of these young people," he said, adding that the idea a defendant could expect justice under such conditions "is inconceivable."

"The military council is now using very violent and immoral means to prosecute anyone who opposes their rule. These sentences are the proof.”

On July 25, the junta executed four democracy activists, including prominent former student leader Ko Jimmy and a former NLD lawmaker. Prior to those executions, which prompted protests at home and condemnation abroad, only three people had been executed in Myanmar in the past 50 years.

According to Thailand's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), junta forces have killed at least 2,553 civilians and jailed at least 16,472 since last year's takeover. As of Thursday, 128 people have been sentenced to death by junta courts, largely for anti-coup activities.

This story has been updated to include reports that seven students were sentenced to death on Wednesday and to clarify place names.


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