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The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) has condemned the Monywa police department, saying it used excessive force during the arrest of 10 female activists who were calling for the suspension of the controversial Latpadaung Copper Mine at a protest in the Sagaing division capital earlier this week.
On Tuesday, around 50 female activists led by former political prisoner Naw Ohn Hla staged an unauthorised protest near the controversial Chinese-backed mine that is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland and the forceful relocation of farmers from 66 villages.
Naw Ohn Hla is regarded as a veteran protest leader in the country and is known for leading weekly ‘prayer demonstrations’ at Shwedagon Pagoda starting in 2004 and was later arrested for participating in the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
During the police crackdown on Tuesday’s demonstration, 10 activists, including Naw Ohn Hla, were forcefully detained and dragged by female officers into the back of authorities’ trucks. The demonstrators were kept in custody for the afternoon before nine were released on bail later on Tuesday evening.
“The activists were arrested in such a violent manner that is inappropriate for women. It is unreasonable to arrest innocent people in this way,” said WLB general secretary Tin Tin Nyo. “This violent and degrading treatment of peaceful women activists is a disgrace. It lays bare the hypocrisy of the government’s democratic reform process.”
While the other nine demonstrators were freed, protest leader Naw Ohn Hla was denied bail and sent to a detention centre in Monywa where she faces charges for staging an unauthorised protest under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, and for sedition under Article 505(b) of the Penal Code.
In accordance with the procession law, demonstrators must file for permission five days in advance of an event and applications can be rejected at the authorities’ discretion.
However, Tin Tin Nyo contends that the activists had tried to seek permission to stage the protest but their requests were denied by the Monywa authorities.
The WLB also called for release of several other female activists, including former NLD chair from Mandalay division’s Meikhtila town Myint Myint Aye who was arrested in June this year for assisting local farmers in a land dispute in Pegu division, and Bauk Ja from the National Democratic Force party who was detained recently for helping land grab victims in the Hukawng Valley in northern Burma’s Kachin state.
“These women were arrested for standing by and protecting people who were being oppressed, tormented, and targeted with land grabs – their commitment and courage in these cases signify the women’s devotion of truth and justice,” Tin Tin Nyo said.
The WLB is an umbrella group made up of multi-ethnic female exile organisations and is based in Thailand.