Three civil rights activists spoke up to defend their own rights at a press conference on Thursday at the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Office in Yangon after the Myanmar government issued warrants for their arrest under Section 505 (b) of the penal code *—a public tranquility statute.
The three activists, Moe Thway (co-founder of Generation Wave), Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin (Yangon People Service Network) had travelled to the town of Monywa and Latpadaung village to assess the situation after April 25 when local police clashed with villagers who were protesting against the Latpadaung Copper Mining Project. Despite the enforcement of Section 144 of the Penal Code, which prohibits the farmers from accessing what was until recently their land, some farmers tried to plough their fields, resulting in a violent crackdown and arrests. Activists and villagers were also arrested.
During the visit, the Yangon-based activists listened to the position of the villagers and tried to communicate the same to the Sagaing Government to avoid further clashes. Wai Lu also met for talks about the issue with Aung Min, a high-profile President’s Office Minister, on his return to Yangon.
A court in Monywa Court subsequently issued warrants against the three activists on June 13 after Lt Khin Zaw from the Monywa police station came forward to accuse them under Section 505 (b) for defaming the state’s integrity in an interview with local media on May 9.
“They accused us under 505 (b) of being critical of Section 144,” said activist Wai Lu. He said he believes they have done nothing wrong.
The onus of arrest has been transferred this week to the Yangon police, but Wai Lu said he will neither court arrest nor will he hide. He said he and the other activists believe that the arrest warrant impinges on their freedom of speech and expression.
Ko Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the Association Assistance for Political Prisoners and a member of the government’s committee to scrutinize the cases of the remaining political prisoners, defended the rights of the activists. He said he has sent a report to the President informing him of the ongoing arbitrary arrests. Should any Latpadaung activists or local protesters be arrested, they will as regarded as political prisoners, according to a lead committee member.
Khin Ohmar, coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a human rights advocacy group, shed some light onto the current state of human rights in Myanmar. “Though we have new laws,” she said, “they exist with many loopholes which can further infringe our rights. For example, even though Article 18 gives us the right to peaceful demonstration, each individual partaking in it must get permission from the government at least two weeks in advance, along with the slogans to be used and number of people expected.”
*Section 505 (b) of the Myanmar penal Code: “Intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility.”
For more background:
- Latpadaung activist sentenced to hard labor
- Latpadaung ‘ploughing protesters’ sentenced
- Latpadaung Inquiry: phosphorous was used, but mining should continue