Pardoned activists return to their cells

Pardoned activists return to their cells

Htin Kyaw and Aye Thein, two of the 41 jailed activists who were granted a presidential amnesty on 11 December, were back behind bars within hours for remaining charges.

Htin Kyaw, who was serving a two and a half year sentence in Rangoon’s Insein prison, was released on Wednesday only to be thrown back in detention on an additional sedition charge, according to his wife Than Than Maw.

“My husband arrived at the North Okkalapa township court on Wednesday to receive a pardon warrant,” she said, “and the judge insisted he apply for bail for another charge under Penal Code article-505(b). He was sent back to detention until the next court hearing because he wasn’t allowed to post bail without his [three] co-defendants.”

The pardon of labour activist Aye Thein, sentenced to one year and three months in jail last June for assisting vendors in last year’s protest against the proposed relocation of Kidan market in Mandalay, was similarly reneged. According to Aye Thein’s colleague, Amar Ni, he was immediately put back in his cell and is now facing two additional charges, one for sedition and another as yet unverified.

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“He was granted amnesty for the market protest charges, but then he was kept in prison for two additional charges; one was for assisting farmers,” said Amar Ni, afterwards remarking on the irony of charging freshly pardoned activists.

“We can see that both the government’s policy and system are yet to change – they take credit for releasing political prisoners, they pledge that there won’t be any left, but then they just keep arresting them again,” she said. “Daw Naw Ohn Hla is back in prison and so is Ko Aye Thein in Mandalay – the government is still committing human rights violations.”

Naw Ohn Hla, the well known anti-Latpadaung Copper Mine activist, has bounced in and out of courts on various charges related to her political activity, and is currently detained awaiting trial on charges for ‘religious offences’ she allegedly committed in 2007.

Many of the prisoners pardoned on Wednesday, including Htin Kyaw, were originally charged under Article 18, Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law, which outlaws public gatherings of five or more people without prior permission from authorities.

Rights advocates have argued that President Thein Sein’s pledge to free all political prisoners by the year’s end and the government’s subsequent series of amnesties are undermined by the endemic use of the law to prosecute protestors.

This week’s presidential amnesty was granted on the same day as the opening of the 27th SEA Games in Naypyidaw, a regional sports championship that drew hordes of foreign visitors and catapulted Burma into the international spotlight.

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