Four activists, including prominent 88 Generation Peace and Open Society leader Ko Ko Gyi, are facing charges after protesting a planned construction project at a sport ground in Rangoon’s South Okkalapa Township on Saturday morning.
The group, which included Ko Ko Gyi, Saw Naing, Myo Khine (also known as Mone Khet), Naing Ko Lin and Aung Maung (also known as Sitt Maung), were charged by the township’s administrator Myo Aung for staging a rally in an area that had not been approved by the authorities.
“We do respect the law, but their law is inconsistent,” said Myo Khin, a former political prisoner.
“The former mayor of Rangoon, Aung Thein Lin, approved the Yan Naing Company’s construction project and we cannot accept it. We see it as an irresponsible and dishonourable move – legal robbery – and the incumbent Mayor Myint Swe has a responsibility to answer for this.”
He said the protest organisers sought permission from local authorities in advance which was granted at designated spots at the Kyaikkasan grounds in Tamwe Township, but not in South Okkalapa where they had intended to hold the protest.
The issue with the construction in South Okkalapa has courted controversy for over a year. When Rangoon city officials allowed private developers to build on formerly public land in 2013, it was met with protests led by an upper house MP and former political prisoners, which caused the project to be halted. The activists said they decided to stage another protest on Saturday after finding out construction had recently been resumed.
On the morning on 21 December the protestors followed their original route in South Okkalapa – instead of the designated route through Kyaikkasan – and rallied from the sport grounds to the local municipal office. They were subsequently charged under the under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law by the township administrator for violating articles of the law and “local rules”, for which they face up to three months in prison and 10,000 kyat (US$10) fine.
Another protester who was charged, Saw Naing, said: “We requested permission to rally in South Okkalapa but they designated us to Kyaikkasan Township, which is completely irrelevant to our cause.
“We insisted on sticking to our planned route and so we are now being charged.”