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Five activists have been sentenced to four months each in prison by the Ahlone township court under Article-18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. The group had previously been sentenced to over four years in prison each, under various charges connected to a protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon in December last year.
The group – Nay Myo Zin, Naw Ohn Hla, Tin Htut Paing, Ba Myint and Than Swe – were arrested after scuffling with police in front of the Chinese embassy, in a protest denouncing the death of Latpadaung villager Khin Win, who was fatally shot by security forces at the China-backed copper mining project in Sagaing Division’s Monywa.
Following the arrest, various charges were pressed – including the Article-505(b) of the Code Penal for sedition and multiple counts of a charge under the protest law for staging rally without official permission, filed by different police stations in townships they marched past in the demonstration. In May this year, the activists were sentenced in total to four years and eight months in prison under five charges.
On Thursday, the Ahlone township court passed a verdict on the group for violation of the Article-18 in the township – four months each in prison; to be served concurrently with similar verdicts passed by courts in other townships.
“We were sentenced to four months in prison. The court ruled that we were guilty of the charge, but decided the term should be served concurrently with previous sentences,” said Nay Myo Zin.
The veteran activist compared his punishment to that received by 155 Chinese nationals who were arrested for logging in January 2015. The majority of the Chinese men were sentenced to life in prison after seven months in detention, then amnestied by Preisdent Thein Sein eight days after the verdict.
“As of now, we are carrying sentences of four years and eight months each and awaiting verdict for three more charges. It is such an ugly face of our judicial system to pile up charges and lengthy prison terms on protesters, but release the foreigners who have been stealing our resources after just eight days in prison. This proves that our judicial system is not free and merely just a puppet of the rulers.”
The group have been appointed to a hearing on 24 August in Kyauktada township court, where they are facing another Article-18 charge.
The Latpadaung copper mine has been protested by hundreds of local villagers and supporters since the start of the projects over 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make place for the project, and after a massive sit-in staged by Buddhist monks and activists in 2012, the mine was temporarily suspended. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several monks.
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.
Read more on the Latpadaung mining project and the protests here.