An activist was sentenced to one year in prison with hard labour by a Rangoon court on Tuesday for distributing leaflets that falsely claimed that an opposition party leader and ethnic political leaders formed an interim government.
Htin Kyaw, a member of the Myanmar Democratic Current Force (MDCF), is an activist known for leading a demonstration in downtown Rangoon to protest against a commodity price hike in early 2007 when the country was still under military rule. He was arrested later that year for his involvement in protests against a fuel price increase, which sparked widespread public demonstrations dubbed the “Saffron Revolution”.
Released from his sentence under a presidential amnesty by the nominally civilian government of Burmese President Thein Sein in January 2012, Htin Kyaw resumed his activist role, and has been detained and prosecuted repeatedly under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act for leading protests without gaining permission from the authorities.
Currently, Htin Kyaw faces trials in six separate courts across Rangoon for the same charge of defaming the state for his distribution of leaflets in June claiming that NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic party leaders were forming an interim government.
Robert San Aung, Htin Kyaw’s lawyer, said that prosecuting his clients against multiple townships for the same offence is against the legal procedures provided by the Code of Criminal Procedure.
“According to Article 234 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a person accused of committing the same offence three times within one year should stand trial concurrently for the offences,” Robert San Aung said. “But now, they are prosecuting my client in different townships — the way pickpockets were dealt with under the Burmese Socialist Programme Party — which indicates a weakness in the judicial sector.”
He added that it was the responsibility of district level courts to address these procedural irregularities of the township courts to ensure the protection of citizens’ rights. Activists are forced to serve lengthy, compounded imprisonments levied by multiple courts for a single offence, and there is lack of accountability on the part of judicial officials, Robert San Aung said.
Htin Kyaw is scheduled for a hearing at Kyauktada Township court for this same offence on 18 August, along with his colleague and fellow MDCF member Naung Naung.