Nine More Months in Jail for Unrelenting Myanmar Activist

An imprisoned Myanmar activist has been jailed for nine more months as he fights off charges in at least seven townships in the commercial capital Yangon for protesting against a controversial public assembly law and against land grabs.

Htin Kyaw had already been convicted in some of the townships and sentenced to a total of 12 months in jail over a December protest questioning Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, under which demonstrators can be jailed for protesting without government permits. 

In his latest convictions Tuesday, the Kyauktada and Pabedan township courts each sentenced him to three months jail for the protest, under the same charges he had been campaigning against, his lawyer Robert San Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

He received another three months from the Pabedan court, also under Section 18, for a separate protest against the Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine in northern Myanmar, according to the lawyer.

Htin Kyaw has also been charged by other townships in the city under Section 18 for separate protests, as well as charged with “defamation” and spreading information that could disturb public tranquility.

Longtime activist

He is the leader of the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF), a community-based organization which represents grassroots communities and campaigns against land-grabbing and other human rights violations.

A longtime activist imprisoned under Myanmar’ former military junta regime in 2007, Htin Kyaw resumed campaigning after his release under a political prisoner amnesty in January last year, staging solo protests and leading land grab victims in demonstrations.

He has been held since August in Yangon’s Insein Prison.

He protested against his own detention with a hunger strike in the prison that month and spent a week in jail in May after refusing to post bail. 

In his December protest against Section 18, he marched without a permit through five townships in the city—Mingalartaungnyunt, Tamwe, Kyauktada, Pabedan, and Thingangkuun.

All five have charged him under Section 18 for the protest and Tuesday’s sentences bring the total amount of time he faces over the march to a year and a half so far, while he awaits a verdict from Thingangkuun.

Section 18

Rights groups say Section 18 has been widely used to silence activists, arguing it is incompatible with reforms Myanmar has introduced in recent years as the country emerges from decades under military rule.

Section 18 carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine for violating rules outlined elsewhere in the law, passed in 2011 under current President Thein Sein’s government.

Htin Kyaw’s detention prompted a call for his release in September from international rights group Front Line Defenders, which said it was concerned about the multiple charges he faced “as a result of his role in exercising the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of assembly.” 

Htin Kyaw had been “targeted for his legitimate and peaceful work defending land rights,” the group said.