Myanmar court jails 13 youths over protest that authorities rammed with cars

Each defendant received three years’ hard labor for allegedly organizing the flash protest.
By RFA Burmese
2023.04.07
Myanmar court jails 13 youths over protest that authorities rammed with cars Among those sentenced were Ya Min Kay Thwal Khaing [left], Zu Zu Yar Khaing [center] and Aye Chan Aung of Myanmar Labor Alliance, who each received three years in prison.
Myanmar Labor Alliance

A junta court has sentenced 13 youth activists to three years of hard labor in prison each for “incitement” after they organized a flash protest against military rule that authorities broke up by plowing into them with vehicles.

They were among nearly 30 activists accused of organizing the Sept. 13, 2022, flash protest – organized over social media to keep authorities in the dark – in Yangon’s Kyimyindaing township.

To quell the protest, junta security personnel drove two taxis and three other civilian cars into the crowd, injuring several people.

The court in Yangon’s Insein Prison issued the sentences in a closed hearing on March 29 for “spreading rumors or reports with the intent to cause fear or alarm among the public to commit offenses against the state” under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, the defendants’ lawyers and sources close to their families told RFA Burmese.

“These young activists were those arrested during the anti-junta protest on Pan Pin Gyi Street [in Yangon] in September 2022,” one of the lawyers said, speaking on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.

The lawyer said that the 13 youths who were sentenced last week are “just old enough” to be prosecuted under Section 505(a). They ranged in age from 18 to 25.

“Some of [the arrested activists] are minors and they were tried [separately] in juvenile courts,” the lawyer said.

The activists belong to various groups that have protested the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup d’etat including the Octopus youth organization, Basic Education Students & Youths Association, Myanmar Labour Alliance, Bama Youth Network, Pyin Nyar Nan Daw Private School Student's Union, Owl Community, and Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar.

It was not immediately clear whether those sentenced intend to appeal.

Those arrested in poor health

A member of the Myanmar Labour Alliance – whose members Nay Min Tun, Than Zaw, Zu Zu Yar Khaing, Ya Min Kay Thwal Khaing and Aye Chan Aung were among those sentenced – told RFA that all 13 are “in poor health” after being violently arrested and interrogated.

“We know that they had asked for medication as they could not sleep at night due to the pain from those injuries,” the alliance member said.

Among those sentenced were journalists Myat Ko Oo, Pyae Phyo Thu and San Lin Phyo, said lawyers.

A tweet by a member of the Yay Bawai (Octopus) People's Benevolent Youth Organization references a story about the group's anti-junta protest in Yangon, Sept. 14, 2022. Credit: Myanmar Now
A tweet by a member of the Yay Bawai (Octopus) People's Benevolent Youth Organization references a story about the group's anti-junta protest in Yangon, Sept. 14, 2022. Credit: Myanmar Now
Yay Ba Wal, the president of Octopus, said five members of his organization were in the group of 13, including two women, two men, and one non-binary member of the LGBTQ community.

“The five Octopus members who have been arrested and imprisoned have only been able to see their families when they were taken out [of Insein Prison] for a court hearing,” he said.

“Arbitrary and unjust punishments for young people who protest peacefully have already become a routine practice of the terrorist junta.”

Sending a message

Jewel, a member of the anti-junta Pazundaung Botahtaung Youth Strike Committee, told RFA that the forceful arrest and maximum punishment of the youth protesters was meant to send a message to the international community that Myanmar is “stable” under military rule.

“When there was a protest, news spread through the internet and social media networks, reaching the international community,” she said. “That’s why every time there is a protest, the junta fails in its attempt to convince the international community that it is ruling the country in a stable state.”

“That’s why I think they have suppressed the youth protesters so aggressively like this,” she added.

Jewel noted that protests of military rule have not stopped, despite the junta using every means at its disposal to arrest participants.

September’s crackdown was not the first time junta security personnel had driven vehicles into a crowd of protesters on Pan Pin Gyi Street.

On Dec. 5, 2021, authorities driving a military vehicle rammed into a group of youths protesting the coup on Pan Pin Gyi Street, seriously injuring two journalists, before arresting participants.

According to Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), authorities in Myanmar have killed at least 3,225 civilians and arrested more than 21,275 others since the coup, mostly during peaceful anti-junta protests.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

RFA has reviewed this story, which was first published by the Burmese service on March 30, 2023. RFA has confirmed the facts as given to our reporter by the lawyer representing the three journalists.

The journalists’ lawyer confirmed to our reporter that he told the court the three men were arrested while covering the protests. They attended the protest not as participants but as members of the media.

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