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DVB spoke with prominent activist and former Burmese army captain, Nay Myo Zin, this week about participating in peaceful protests and how it can lead to clashes with the government. His fellow activists — Htin Kyaw, leader of the Movement for Democracy Current Force, and Win Cho, a prominent community organiser and member of Myanmar Social Development — were recently charged under Section 18 of the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. The two activists say they were peacefully exercising their freedom of expression.
Q: Recently, you met Htin Kyaw in police detention, where he was charged for insulting the state. What did he tell you about these protests and demonstrations?
A: Ko Htin Kyaw told me that he doesn’t believe in the current democratic transition process and the union government because the government hasn’t delivered what they promised to the people. He asked me to urge the people to continue making demands on the government until their actions are in line with what they promised.
We are now facing several charges. These are unjust. Every citizen has a right to express what he/she believes. The main thing is that the government has the duty to maintain trust from the people. But it is not a sign of good governance to charge those who say they don’t believe them.
Q: Earlier this week, Win Cho and Wai Lu were sentenced under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. Win Cho has faced several similar charges. Can you comment on those charges?
A: It was last year, 2013. I was also charged 12 times, under Section 18. It is sorrowful to see this pattern of police charges. Police take pictures of everything during a protest or a demonstration or a march. Then they press charges against those they are familiar with or whose phone number they have. It’s not important to them who leads the protest or who express what or how many people are involved. They just care about whatever familiar person took part in the event.
The actions of these law enforcement agencies are not aimed towards the interest of the nation, but to make a show in the news that they are dutifully arresting people. In the case of Win Cho, there were about 2,000 farmers that joined him, and he was sentenced to three months of imprisonment. He was the only one charged among 2,000 participants because the police know his name. Today’s charge is also similar. He was there to prevent people from causing violence. But since he was the one police know, he was the one charged.
Q: The 2008 Constitution states that every citizen has a right to express one’s will. Don’t these charges violate that right?
A: I think it is a failure of the government to not allow the people to practice the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The government itself should lead, show the way, practice the rights and prove that they respect the Constitution. Instead, they think those who use their constitutional rights are threatening their power, so they arrest them. I think it’s bad practice for a government that claims to want to instate democratic changes.
Q: Before the current government, people didn’t dare to demonstrate or even criticise the government in public. Now the situation is different. There have been many protests across the country. Do you think the people are getting what they demand?
A: If you are asking whether there are benefits to the recent changes, we can say that there are, to some extent. But, in some cases, there are also abuses. But if you keep quiet, there is no way to hold accountable people who commit injustices. So protest is a tool we can use to help the people.
If responsible persons are addressing the needs of the people in accordance with the law, if the administrative mechanisms follow what the president has said before — which is that the government should act in the people’s interest – then we, the people, would have no need to protest. We choose to demonstrate because the ones who are responsible are ignoring the will of the people.