Security forces were deployed across Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township on Monday as the prominent politician Aye Maung and author Wai Hin Aung made their first appearance at the local court, facing charges of incitement and unlawful association.
The two men were arrested earlier this month, after they reportedly gave speeches that authorities are alleging ran afoul of the law.
According to state media, the ethnic Rakhine politician Aye Maung “urged the people to take advantage of the weakness of the government and to march towards the goal of sovereignty,” at a speech delivered in Rathedaung on 15 January. A sitting lawmaker and avowed Rakhine nationalist, Aye Maung previously chaired the Arakan National Party, though last year his relationship with the political party frayed and he tendered his resignation in late November.
Monday’s bolstered security presence included a blockade of some entry points into the township. Jetties in Rathedaung were heavily manned by security personnel and some ferries were prevented from running their regular routes.
At around 6:30 a.m., police officers escorted Aye Maung and Wai Hin Aung from Sittwe Prison, where the duo are being detained, to a jetty in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe for a boat trip to the Rathedaung courthouse.
It was there that heightened restrictions took on a personal nature as family members of the accused were barred from meeting with them.
Wai Hin Aung’s brother Thein Win told DVB: “I am saddened that I cannot meet with my brother. Such denial of access should not be happening in this era. Journalists were not allowed to cover the court hearing either. I want the authorities to allow family members to meet with the defendants.”
Authorities cited “security reasons” as the pretext for preventing family from meeting the two men, according to Aye Nu Sein, a lawyer for the defendants, who added that they were informed the next court hearing is scheduled for 9 February.
At the Rathedaung Township Court, they are facing charges under sections 505(b) and (c) of the Penal Code, covering public incitement, and section 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act. The Penal Code charges carry with them a maximum sentence of two years in prison each, while the Unlawful Association Act’s section 17(1) is punishable by up to three years behind bars.
The Ministry of Information has previously stated that the two men will also face charges under section 121 of the Penal Code, a “high treason” provision that is far more severe in its potential punishment and will, if officially brought against the men, likely be handled by a higher court.