Online petition calls for release of imprisoned Rakhine leaders

A petition calling for the release of two prominent Rakhine political figures has begun circulating online.

Former MP Dr Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung were arrested in early 2018 for delivering speeches that were deemed to be incitements against the state.

Both men were speaking at an event in Rakhine state’s Rathedaung township marking the 233rd anniversary of the fall of the Rakhine kingdom of Mrauk U.

In September 2018, they were charged with high treason under section 122 of the penal code and incitement under section 505(b). They were found guilty of both charges six months later and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Khaing Mratt Kyaw, the person in charge of the petition, said that the two men should be released in the interests of national reconciliation.

“Dr Aye Maung is beloved in the Rakhine community, and they are both well-known figures. Their imprisonment has made most Rakhine people unhappy. To ease that, they need to be released,” he said.

He added that when the petition gets 100 signatures from people of various walks of life, he will submit it to the country’s top civilian and military leaders. 

The petition currently has around 50 signatures, said Khaing Mratt Kyaw, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Sittwe-based news agency Narinjara.

A former chair of the Arakan National Party (ANP), Dr Aye Maung was elected to represent Rakhine state’s Ann township in the Pyithu Hluttaw in the 2017 by-election. He later quit the party and founded the Arakan Front Party (AFP) in 2018. 

Earlier this year he was stripped of his status as a legislator and barred from running for office in the future.

Despite his imprisonment, the AFP contested in the 2020 election and won a seat in Pyithu Hluttaw and two seats in the state parliament.

“The Bamar should consider why the ethnic groups feel like they are slaves,” said Kyaw Nyunt Maung, a lawyer for Dr Aye Maung 

Dr Myo Nyunt, the spokesperson for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), said that he could not comment on whether the government that will be formed based on the results of the election would release the pair.  

“We can’t say anything about what the upcoming government will do. They will be acting on the basis of their own reasoning,” he said. 

He added, however, that while the NLD recognises that ethnic people may hold different views, the party would not accept calls for separation.  

Kyaw Nyunt Maung, a lawyer who aided in Dr Aye Maung’s case, said that the two were only talking about creating equal opportunities for all ethnic groups, not promoting separatism.

He said the speeches were about why ethnic people in Myanmar are dissatisfied and “how the Bamar should consider why the ethnic groups feel like they are slaves,” he said.

“They were speeches on self-determination and federalism,” he added.

Others suggested that the government’s heavy-handed response to the case could be adding fuel to the fire, noting that there was some evidence that it had resulted in people joining the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group engaged in an ongoing conflict with the Tatmadaw.

“Given the circumstances of Dr Aye Maung’s imprisonment and the people’s dissatisfaction with other parliamentary affairs, it is possible that some people have joined the AA for these reasons,” said political analyst Maung Maung Soe.

Khaing Mratt Kyaw said it was up to the government to decide how to respond to the petition.

“Whether they release the two or not is their decision. But we have to present our beliefs, because the Rakhine people have strong feelings about this case. It has completely destroyed their trust in democratic standards,” he said.

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