A labour rights activist appeared in court in south-central Burma on Tuesday to defend himself against charges of profanity, after a local chairman from the National League for Democracy (NLD) sued him for “trespassing” and “cursing” at members during a party meeting in March.
The former NLD member, Thet Wai, allegedly stormed into a party meeting in Kyaunggon township in the Irrawaddy division and demanded to speak to the chairman. When he was asked to leave, the “seemingly drunk” man hurled profanities at the group and “caused a ruckus”, according to the local party chairman, Thein Han.
“We were holding a meeting to explain to local members about the NLD congress that was previously held and to decide on future plans when [Thet Wai] came in, claiming that he wanted to talk about something,” said Thein Han, chairman of the NLD in Kyaunggon.
“I told him to wait until later, so he left after about two-three minutes, but then he began cursing at me from outside.”
Thet Wai, who left the party in 2011 after its decision to participate in the April 2012 by-elections, faces up to six months in jail for two charges of “obscene behaviour” and trespassing. Thein Han insisted that the lawsuit was necessary to prevent such behaviour from taking place in the future.
But Thet Wai insists that he has done nothing wrong and has vowed to fight the charges. “I went to the meeting because some [NLD] members who are farmers asked me to, but when I questioned the [party] officials and argue with them, they pressed charges against me,” Thet Wai said.
“The NLD claims itself to be the “people’s party”, so I would assume they’d let members of the public observe their events,” he added.
He has accused the party of being dominated by opportunists and expressed concerns for the upcoming 2015 general elections. The NLD has faced growing dissent among its party ranks over a perceived lack of transparency and allegations of favouritism within its leadership. In October last year, more than 130 local members resigned in protest of undemocratic practices within the party.
The NLD, led by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, has also courted criticisms for accepting substantial donations from military cronies, which has been viewed by some as an attempt to influence the opposition party.
Thet Wai was the NLD chairperson for Rangoon’s Sanchaung township until he split from the party in November 2011. He is also an active labour rights activist, who has filed grassroots complaints to the International Labour Organization for several years. He was arrested in 2008 after he refused to hand over a memory stick containing information about forced labour practices carried out by the military junta, and detained until a general amnesty in February 2009.
Thet Wai was also sued by a local fish farm in November last year, along with a number of civilians and reporters, for helping a group of local farmers rally against the company for damaging local water resources.