Five activists who have been detained for their role in a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon last month made another appearance in court in Dagon Township on Tuesday.
The group had been demonstrating against the recent violence at the Latpadaung copper mine, a joint venture between Burma’s military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Chinese state-run mining firm Wanbao. Protestors had attempted to lay a wreath in front of the Chinese embassy to signify the death of a local farmer.
On 22 December, protestor Khin Win was shot dead in a confrontation with the police at the Chinese backed copper mining project in Sagaing Division.
Four people – Naw Ohn Hla, Sein Htay, Nay Myo Zin and Tin Htut Paing – were arrested at the time while a fifth, San San Win (also known as Lay Lay), subsequently handed herself in to police. The group are each facing five charges, including those made under Article 353, for disturbing officials on duty, and Article 505(b) for defaming the state.
A sixth activist named Than Shwe presented himself to authorities on Tuesday, while a seventh is still at large.
The group were presented with an additional charge at Tuesday’s hearing, their legal counsel said. Defence lawyer Robert San Aung told DVB that they now also stood accused of staging an unauthorised protest under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
The court also heard a bail plea from the accused. “We sought bail for the defendants, but the government prosecutors objected to it,” said the laywer. He added that a verdict date of 27 January had been established.
Hundreds of local villagers and their supporters have been protesting the Latpadaung copper mine since its inception more than 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make way for the project, which was originally contracted to a Canadian firm, Ivanhoe Mines.
The controversial mine was temporarily suspended when activists and Buddhist monks staged a mass sit-in protest in 2012. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several monks, many with horrific burns that experts have attributed to white phosphorous.
A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed. Since the death of Khin Win, Suu Kyi has blamed the violence on the Latpadaung Working Committee, accusing it of failing to implement the suggestions of her investigative commission.
Tin Myint, secretary of the committee, rejected Suu Kyi’s remarks and told reporters on 8 January that his committee is seriously evaluating and implementing the suggestions of the commission.