Authorities Must Drop Politically Motivated Charges Against Activist

The Myanmar authorities should immediately release from prison and drop all charges against activist Myat Nu Khaing, Civil Rights Defenders said today.

Myat Nu Khaing, an independent candidate contesting in the Phyu constituency in Pegu Division, was arrested on October 16 while campaigning for elections in Yangon. She was promptly transferred to Insein Prison.

Myat Nu Khaing was arrested for her alleged participation in a peaceful protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon that took place almost a year ago. Than Zaw Aung, the lawyer representing her case, said she was charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law (prior permission before protest) and Article 147 (rioting), Article 152 (obstructing a public servant when suppressing a riot), Article 294 (obscene acts or songs), 353 (assault against a public servant), and 505b (intent to cause fear or alarm) of the Penal Code. 

“Given the timing of Myat Nu Khaing’s arrest, these charges appear politically motivated,” said Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia Director at Civil Rights Defenders. “Authorities need to stop the selective application of laws to suit political ends and silence voices of dissent.”

On December 29, 2014, approximately 100 protestors gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Yangon to pay tribute to an activist who was shot dead by authorities in a violent crackdown on anti-mine protesters in Letpadaung, Sagaing Division. Six protestors were charged under the abovementioned provisions the following May, and sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment. Myat Nu Khaing was arrested for her alleged participation in this protest.

The intimidation and arrests of activists have intensified in the lead-up to elections scheduled for November 8. In the past week alone, authorities arrested two people in separate instances for posting images online mocking the military. Kachin activist Patrick Kum Jaa Lee was arrested from his home in Yangon on October 14, where police showed him a screenshot of a Facebook post where he makes a joke about a military general. On October 12, Chaw Sandi Tun was arrested for posting a Facebook image likening opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s dress to military uniforms. Both have been charged under the Electronic Transactions Law.

These incidents cast serious doubts about the Myanmar government’s sincerity in relinquishing military control and hosting free and fair elections. The very integrity of upcoming elections is contingent on free campaigning and democratic debate, not the active stifling of voices that are critical of the ruling party and military regime.