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Dozens of protestors gathered outside Sagaing Division’s Yinmarpin district court on Tuesday to demand the release of a student activist on trial for her alleged involvement in the kidnapping of two Chinese workers in May 2014.
Phyu Hnin Htwe, a second year student in Mandalay’s Yadanabon University, was arrested on 13 September and his since been detained in Monywa Prison.
The young student, who is a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), has supported farmers’ rights activities in the area near the controversial Latpadaung copper mine — where the kidnapping occurred — though doubts remain about her involvement and even her presence at the time of the incident.
Phyu Hnin Htwe is being tried on two counts of kidnapping under Burma’s penal code article 364 (kidnapping with intent to murder) and article 368 (wrongful confinement of a kidnapped person).
On 18 May, one Burmese and two Chinese employees of Myanmar Wanbao Mining Company Ltd were abducted by about 20 villagers in Seté, near the copper mine site. The villagers said that the employees were seen on disputed land and appeared to be surveying the property.
As it has happened many times before, the villagers feared that the Wanbao staff were preparing to fence off the land, so they detained them. The Burmese driver was shortly released, while the two Chinese men were held for about 30 hours.
The villagers demanded a complete halt to the project, which has been one of Burma’s most contentious developments.
The company initially released a press statement claiming that the two had been beaten and threatened, but a spokesperson later told DVB that they were released unharmed. Wanbao pressed charges against seven suspects in late May, five were later acquitted.
Phyu Hinin Htwe is the only suspect to have been detained and tried to date. Since her arrest earlier this month, the suspect has been forbidden to confer with other ABFSU members, friends and family, but some fellow student activists were allowed to meet briefly with her after Tuesday’s hearing.
“Initially, the authorities kept her hidden away from the public,” said ABFSU spokesperson Thiha Win Tin. He said that colleagues had reached out to the police to find out her whereabouts, but officers wouldn’t answer any of their inquiries.
Kyaw Ko Ko, the group’s central committee chairperson, was also present at Tuesday’s demonstration and the post-hearing meeting with the accused.
“She [Phyu Hnin Htwe] maintained her innocence, claiming she was fighting for justice for the people in Latpadaung and that the arrest was unfair,” said Kyaw Ko Ko.
Following the hearing and meeting with her supporters, Phyu Hnin Htwe was returned to detention in Monywa prison where she will remain pending further court proceedings.