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Burma: Human Rights Defender Ms Naw Ohn Hla Sentenced to Two Years in Prison with Hard Labour

By Front Line Defenders  •  September 5, 2013

On 29 August 2013, human rights defender Ms Naw Ohn Hla was found guilty of disturbing public tranquillity under Section 505(b) of the Burmese Penal Code and sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour. She had been arrested on 13 August 2013 during a peaceful protest. Naw Ohn Hla has been an active human rights defender for decades and has been instrumental in calling for the suspension of the Letpadaung mining project as it is harming the environment. Numerous other human rights defenders have been targeted in recent times for their peaceful opposition to the project.

The trial of the human rights defender began on 27 August and ended within three days. In addition to her conviction for disturbing peaceful tranquillity, she remains to be tried under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law for allegedly holding a protest without permission. She had in fact requested official permission prior to the protest, but was refused.

Naw Ohn Hla was forcibly arrested by the police on 13 August 2013 near the Letpadaung copper mine. The human rights defender and 50 local villagers had gathered in Monywa to call for the suspension of the Chinese-backed Letpadaung mine and to amend the 2008 Constitution. They were surrounded by several hundred police officers while protesting. After a tense stand-off, police moved in to arrest Naw Ohn Hla and nine other protesters, pulling them into the back of police trucks. Naw Ohn Hla was seized so violently that her clothing was partially pulled off. The nine other protesters were released after signing a guarantee to not reoffend.

Naw Ohn Hla did not appear in court to hear the verdict because “she does not have faith in the judicial system”. The human rights defender is currently being held in Monywa No. 1 police station. About 60 villagers have been staging a sit-in next to the police station in protest at the arrests. Her lawyer, U Robert San Aung, is planning to submit an appeal against the verdict later this month. He said that undercover intelligence officers were taking photos of the courtroom and the observers while the trial was taking place.

Naw Ohn Hla has been active for decades as a human rights defender. She campaigned for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest. Naw Ohn Hla has been imprisoned more than seven times since 1989 for her peaceful efforts to free political prisoners and assist Buddhist monks during the 2007 uprising.

Front Line Defenders is concerned at the sentence handed down to Naw Ohn Hla in the light of her peaceful and legitimate human rights activism. In addition to this, Front Line Defenders is alarmed to see that a considerable number of human rights defenders have recently been targeted for their peaceful opposition to the Letpadaung copper mine. On 8 July 2013, human rights defenders U Aung Soe, U Maung San and Ko Soe Thu were convicted for their role in the protests. On 20 June 2013, an arrest warrant was issued against human rights defenders Moe Thway, Wai Lu and Wai Hmuu Thwin for their comments about the mine. Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on their cases on 12 July 2013 and 20 June 2013, respectively.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Burma to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally quash the conviction of human rights defender Naw Ohn Hla, and drop all further charges against her, as it is believed they are solely motivated by her peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights;
  2. Ensure that the treatment of Naw Ohn Hla, while in detention, adheres to all those conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment’,  adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Burma are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
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This post is in: Press Release

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