Court jails Rakhine anti-war protesters for two and a half years 

Four student activists who were arrested for staging an anti-war protest last year were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison on Thursday, almost a year after they were first detained. 

Kyaw Naing Htay, Oo Than Naing, Myat Soe Win and Kaung Tun were arrested in the Rakhine capital Sittwe last October during a demonstration in which they held signs reading “We don’t want to fascist military” and “No bloody government.”  

They were charged under section 505b of the penal code for incitement, for which they received two-year sentences, and under a disaster management law for alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations, for which they received six-month sentences. 

“They charged them via video call. The judge instantly gave them a sentence because the students confessed of their own accord,” said Kyaw Nyunt Maung, a lawyer representing the students.

During a hearing two months ago, the students staged a protest against what they saw as undue delays in their trial. “Give us the sentence now!” they chanted. 

Toe Toe Aung from the Rakhine Student Union, of which the four activists are members, said the sentence was unjust. 

“This is such an unfair sentence and it lacks transparency,” he said. “They knew we were waiting in front of the court but the fact that they sentenced them without telling us anything else proved that it was an unjust court hearing.” 

He added: “I heard they were sentenced to prison with labour. What can we say? The bullies are going to bully the weak after all.”

Kyaw Naing Htay’s brother, Kyaw Min Htay, said the students’ families were deeply saddened by the sentences. 

“All of the families are in great despair,” he told Myanmar Now. “It was such a big sentence. We thought they would be released soon if the sentence was only one year, considering they’d been detained for a while now. It’s just not fair that they were sentenced to 30 months in prison.”

The students are reported to be in good health, he added. “But we’re worried because the authorities could make it difficult for them in prison out of spite.”

Kyaw Naing Htay, who is 24, was an active anti-war protester and worked as the information officer for the students’ union on top of his studies as a fourth year law student, Kyaw Min Htay said.  

“He was doing it because he truly believed in the cause,” he said. 

Kyaw Naing Htay’s politics upset his father, who served in the military as a corporal and was denied a promotion to sergeant because of his son’s activism, Kyaw Min Htay said. The father died in February of hypertension. 

“My father became exceedingly stressed when his son started criticising the army,” he said. “Our father served in the army his whole life and I guess he just wanted to enjoy his retirement peacefully.”

Kyaw Naing Htay and the three other detainees led a group of 50 protesters along a main road in Sittwe on the day of their arrests, but the rally was met with a violent crackdown by police officers. 

During almost two years of fighting between the military and the Arakan Army (AA), the military was accused of rampant human rights violations including indiscriminate air strikes, torture and killings of civilians. The AA was also accused of some abuses. 

As the violence raged, internet access was cut off to large parts of the state for almost a year. The since ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi ordered the internet blackout and publicly supported the military in its efforts to defeat the AA. 

Shortly before their arrests in October, Kyaw Naing Htay and Oo Than Naing spent ten days in jail for another anti-war protest in front of the Rakhine State Administration Office in September. 

They were released on bail and eventually fined 20,000 kyat for that protest, along with two other students. 

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