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A leader of a major political party in Burma’s eastern Shan State has been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act, the party says.
Sai Jan, a regional chairman for the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), was arrested without warrant at his home on 5 May.
The chairman of the Nam Lin Mai branch office, in Kengtung, has been accused of associating with the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), an ethnic armed group that has been under a ceasefire agreement with the central government since 2011.
The SSA-S and its political wing, Restoration Council of Shan State, are not, however, members of the ethnic National Ceasefire Coordination Team.
One day after Sai Jan’s arrest, Burmese police and military officials allegedly raided a liaison office of the SSA-S, also in Kengtung.
According to Sai Lon, the eastern-Salween regional chairman of the SNLD, Sai Jan was taken to Kentung Township Court on 22 May and formally charged under article 17/1 of the Unlawful Association Act, which prohibits contact with an illegal organisation.
The article carries a minimum prison sentence of two years, with a maximum sentence of three.
Sai Jan “was brought to the court [on Thursday] morning and the hearing began around 2pm,” said Sai Lon, adding that SNLD members and locals from Kengtung, Tachilek, Mongphyat and Talay came to show their support at the court.
The next court hearing for the case is set for 2 June.
Sai Lon said that Sai Jan has been suffering from fatigue and severe headaches while in detention. SNLD representatives plan to negotiate with Kengtung prison officials to provide medical assistance.
The SNLD released a statement on 15 May alleging that local police had forced a confession from Sai Jan.
Sai Lek, an SNLD spokesperson, took issue with the government’s deignation of the SSA-S as an unlawful association, fearing that the attitude could damage the peace process.
“Technically, the [SSA-S] are deemed an unlawful association and we are concerned that this may be detrimental to ceasefire and peace building work with the group. It could even have an impact on other ethnic armed organisations,” he said.