THE CASE OF GEN AUNG SAN STATUE: Karenni activists await court verdict

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As the three prominent political activists – former Myanmar army Captain Nay Myo Zin, poet Saw Wai and lawyer U Kyi Myint – were sued for their remarks on charter amendments made in April in Kawthaung Township, Tanintharyi Region by the military, a case against  six Karenni youth activists for opposing a controversial statue of Gen Aung San statue erected in a park in Loikaw were about to be determined on whether or not they will be convicted.

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Demonstrators march in Loikaw on Tuesday to protest the regional government’s plan to erect a statue of General Aung San. | irrawaddy.com

The charged youths were imprisoned since last Spring and the statue erection has led to numerous protests and dozens of arrests in Kayah State, also known as Karenni State.

Ko Deede, Myo Hlaing Win, Pyar Lay, Khu Ree Du, Khu Kyu Hpae Kay and Khun Thomas were arrested on March 25 after releasing a statement criticizing the Kayah State chief prime minister and finance minister for destroying Karenni history and creating discord among constituents.

L Paung Sho, Kayah State chief prime minister, and Maw Maw, finance minister, sought legal action, claiming the statement tarnished their reputation and insulted their dignity.

Reportedly, the youths were charged on August 26 with article 10 under the law to protect the privacy and security of citizens. 

According to it, “Whosoever is found guilty of committing an offence under section 7 or section 8, shall, in addition to a sentence for a period of at least six months, and up to three years, also be required to pay a fine of between three hundred thousand (300,000) and fifteen hundred thousand (1,500,000) kyats.”

Surprisingly, the section 7 and 8 only stated:

“No one shall be detained for more than 24 hours without permission from a court unless the detention is in accordance with existing law;” and “In the absence of an order, permission or warrant issued in accordance with existing law, or permission from the Union President or a Union-level.”

However, section 8 (f) said: “No one shall unlawfully interfere with a citizen’s personal or family matters or act in any way to slander or harm their reputation.”

And perhaps, the plaintiffs might have used the clause against the Karenni youths, which is quite questionable.

The charge actually has nothing to do with the case argued Myo Hlaing Win, one of the charged Karenni youth.

He said: “During the entire legal process, L Paung Sho and Maw Maw never appear before the court to argue their personal loss and degradation of their dignities. They also have not make clarification with the media. Thus, we have told (the court) that action cannot be taken according to the law.”

The accused made their final arguments at their 17th court appearance on October 29 and the court will enter a verdict on November 7, said Khu Kyu Hpae Kay, who is a defendant and   everyone would witness whether or not the government is willing to manipulate the justice system for its benefit.

“This whole process comes about because of political deception. They arrested us after negotiations (over wide-spread opposition against the statue) weren’t successful. Everybody knows that it has no justification and being carried out without solid evidence,” complained Khu Kyu Hpae, according to Network Media Group recent report.

He added: “We have court appointment next month on the 7th (November). At that time we all will see the judge’s wisdom and ability in decision-making. I believe the whole country will see the judge’s wisdom and reasoning and also how much the administrative machinery is involved in judiciary.” 

Given all these, the independence of the judiciary is starkly questioned, as monks, journalists, politicians, political activists, farmers and comedians are being sued and sentenced to jail by the government and the military for airing their dissatisfaction and making use of their freedom of expression to criticize.

“Myanmar’s government seems intent on jumping on the military bandwagon to crack down on freedom of expression,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch recently.

He stressed: “Until Myanmar’s repressive laws are repealed or amended, military and civilian officials will be free to prosecute theater troupe members, cartoonists, and filmmakers just because they didn’t like what they saw, read, or heard,” referring to the sentencing of  five members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe to a year in prison for a performance that allegedly mocked the military, in violation of section 505(a) of the criminal code. 

Let us just hope that the suggestion of Robertson will be heeded in the near future and the repressive laws are repealed or amended, so that the case like Karenni youth and all others   speaking their mind will not be indiscriminately punished.

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