Two activists who led an 800-mile march against northern Burma’s civil war earlier this year have each been sentenced to seven months in prison under Burma’s increasingly contentious Article-18 for involvement in unauthorised demonstrations.
Yan Naing Htun and Aung Min Naing organised a march from Rangoon to Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) headquarters in Burma’s northern town of Laiza, a trek that took almost two months and ended when a group of about 50 protesters arrived in the rebel stronghold on 13 March, greeted by over 100 supporters.
The two activists faced seven separate charges racked up along the way, having been stopped by authorities at several points along the route, including in Pegu, where they were stopped for holding flags while marching.
On 5 December, a district-level court in Rangoon’s Hlaing township ordered them to either pay a fine of 70,000 kyat or serve one month in prison for each count of the charges, which were filed by police in seven different townships.
The two refused to pay, asserting that they did not commit a crime, according to fellow activist Zin Ko Ko, also present at the march.
“We see that there is no distinction between the judiciary and executive branch,” he said.
The march was held in response to the Burmese army offensive launched against the Kachin Independence Army late last year after a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides broke down in June 2011. While sporadic conflict is ongoing, the two armies are involved in ongoing peace negotiations aimed at an eventual nationwide ceasefire.
Burma’s contentious Article 18 – the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law – has been decried in recent weeks as a government tool for criminalising dissent.