Four Latpadaung villagers have been charged by police for protesting without permission following a demonstration in front of a local police station last week. The group was demanding the release of prominent Latpadaung activist Thaw Zin.
Thaw Zin, a former political prisoner, has made a name assisting local villagers as they resist the confiscation of land for the copper mine project. Thaw Zin was arrested by plain-clothed police on the morning of 11 February.
Salingyi police superintendent, Thaw Zaw, stated that Thaw Zin would be charged with disturbing public tranquillity and would appear in court soon. This will be added to two outstanding charges, one for allegedly threatening Wanbao company staff and another for trespassing. In that 2013, incident Thaw Zin had gathered local villagers to plough land on the mining site, demonstrating that the land still belonged to farmers.
Local villagers gathered in front of Nyaungbingyi Police Station after hearing of the activist’s arrest.
Four of the group were later charged with unlawful assembly under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
Nyaungbingyi police’s Deputy-superintendent Soe Soe claimed that protesters were “unruly” and had used hostile words to the police.
“We tried to reason with them in a decent manner but they said damaging things to us,” the official said.
“They did not seek official permission for the protest but we decided to let that go and told them to just disperse, but they didn’t comply so we had to deal with them with legal action.”
Thaw Zin was detained by six plain-clothed men assumed to be police last weekend as he walked between Tonywa and Shwehle villages in Salingyi Township where the controversial copper mine is located. Htay Yi, an activist who was with Thaw Zin at the time of his arrest, says she was assaulted in the incident.
Police rejected her allegation on the grounds that it did not qualify as an assault under the legal term as it was not premeditated.
Myint Aung, secretary of local anti-mining project campaign group Save the Latpadaung Hill Committee, condemned government and judicial authorities for their abuse of legal powers. He suggested that political and juridical discretion always falls in favour of the mine operators — military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and Wanbao Mining Company, a subsidiary of China’s state arms manufacturer Norinco.
“The officials pretty much always dismiss cases filed by the public for the damages they suffer – it is very rare to accept them. But for lawsuits filed by the UMEH or other cronies, they’d accept them very easily and at times even volunteer to press charges against people on behalf of them,” said Myint Aung.