Defiant Activists Reject Bail in Karen Martyrs’ Day Case

Three Karen rights campaigners including the prominent activist Naw Ohn Hla have declined to apply for bail to show their defiance against charges which they say amount to an attack on the rights of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities.  

The activists, who also include Saw Albert Cho and Sa Thein Zaw Min, were charged for holding an unauthorised protest after they organised a Karen Martyrs’ Day celebration attended by around 100 people in Yangon’s Mahabandoola Park last month.  

Authorities have banned the use of the term martyrs in relation to the ceremony, which commemorates the assassination in 1950 of Karen ethnic leader Saw Ba U Gyi.

Naw Ohn Hla and her co-defendants on Tuesday declined an invitation to a pre-trial meeting with the judge and the prosecution to discuss details such as which witnesses they will call.  

“I can’t cooperate with them. I won’t go to the meeting because everything we did was legal,” Naw Ohn Hla told reporters as she left the court. 

A crowd of about 100 people made up of members of the Democratic Party for a New Society, former political prisoners, and Karen activists attended the hearing. 

Saw Albert Cho, 26, said authorities did not want Karen people celebrating their own martyrs’ day.

“If we were given permission, we could have celebrated in a church or monastery. The main problem is the Yangon government. We had to ask to gather under the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law because the Yangon government didn’t give us permission,” he said.  

“Even then, they didn’t let us use the term ‘Karen Martyrs’ Day,’” he added.  

After the celebration, Kyauktada township police station’s chief U Myo Thant registered Naw Ohn Hla, Saw Albert Cho and Sathein Zaw Min as fugitives at Kyauktada court, and Naw Ohn Hla was arrested on September 9. 

The three were declared fugitives by Yangon police shortly after the commemoration ceremony. Naw Ohn Hla was arrested on September 9 while the Saw Albert Cho and Sa Thein Zaw Min handed themselves in on Monday. 

The three are being held at Insein prison. 

The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday next week, when prosecution witnesses will be cross-examined, the court said. 

Saw Ba U Gyi, who Karen activists say was killed by the Tatamdaw, led armed Karen rebels in the fight for autonomy in the years after Myanmar gained independence from Britain.

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