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BURMA: Former Activist Monk and Demonstrators Among Detainees in Wave of Arrests

By Asian Human Rights Commission  •  December 6, 2012

The Asian Human Rights Commission is concerned by a recent wave of arrests in Burma, signaling that continuation of repressive practices from earlier periods of direct military rule. Among those arrested are a number of leaders of recent demonstrations against a copper mining project in the north of the country, and a former monk who after his release from prison at the start of the year has been subjected to constant harassment and abuse. We are calling for the release of all these persons who have done nothing other than exercise their rights to participate in social life at a time that the government of Burma claims to be democratizing.

CASE NARRATIVE:

In recent days authorities in Burma have carried out a wave of arrests of human rights activists, including leaders of protests against a copper mine in the north of the country, at the Letpadaung Mountain range (see AHRC-STM-246-2012), and a former monk who led antigovernment protests in 2007.

Villagers in Letpadaung began action against the expansion of copper mining in the region in July 2012. As people in other parts of the country have learned about their struggle they have also joined in calls for the mine operation–which is a joint venture of an army-owned conglomerate and a foreign company–to be halted, on grounds that it displaces local villagers and pollutes the environment. At the end of November, protests against the operation spread to cities, including Rangoon, Mandalay, Monywa, Pakokku and Magwe.

Although the draconian 2011 Peaceful Assembly and Marching Law requires that people organizing rallies submit requests for approval with extensive details of persons who will assemble, reasons for assembling and texts of speeches that will be given, the demonstrators declined to obtain these permits on grounds that they should not be required to obtain permission to assemble and march peacefully on human rights issues.

Simultaneously with a violent police assault on protestors encamped in areas nearby the mine site that left dozens of monks and civilians hospitalized, which obtained international news media attention, on 29 November 2012 police in Rangoon arrested six leaders of one rally in support of the anti-mine demonstrators. The six include Naw Ohn Hla, who led a prayer campaign for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in earlier years. On December 3, two more protest leaders, Ko Moe Thwe and Ko Aung Soe, were also detained. The demonstrators have been charged with offences against public tranquility under the Penal Code and have been transferred to prisons.

The AHRC is receiving reports of arrests in other parts of the country for similar “unauthorized” protests. Among them, four shopkeepers were reportedly imprisoned in Kachin State for taking footage of a demonstration over the relocation of a marketplace.

Meanwhile, police in Rangoon have also arrested and charged a former monk, U Gambira, known by the layperson’s name Ko Nyi Nyi Lwin, for attempting previously to reopen monasteries that were closed following the 2007 monk-led protests, of which he was at the forefront. According to information available to the AHRC, around 15 police came to arrest the former monk at his home, after which his family was told that he was sent to the central prison. However, when they went to the prison they were also told that he was not there.

After release from prison in January 2012, Gambira was denied residency at any monastery, whereupon in an attempt to remain a monk he entered the premises of a number temples closed since the 2007 events. It is over those alleged trespasses that he has reportedly been charged. He was later forced to disrobe because he could not find anywhere to reside as a monk.

Further details are provided in the sample letter here.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The AHRC has issued a number of statements on the Letpadaung copper mine protests, and is following the issue closely. More details and commentary can be found on the Burma page of the AHRC website here.

Among cases on the website are a number of interventions concerning the case of U Gambira, who was released in January 2012 after being imprisoned for his role in the 2007 antigovernment protests (AHRC-UAU-004-2012). Gambira suffered brutal torture in detention and in October 2011 the AHRC also issued an open letter expressing concern for his health while in prison (AHRC-OLT-013-2011). Since his release he has been subjected to constant harassment, as the AHRC reported previously (AHRC-UAC-044-2012).

Naw Ohn Hla has also been subjected to repeated legal action and other forms of harassment over a number of years for leading a prayer campaign to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. See: AS-266-2007.

REQUESTED ACTION:

Please call for the release from detention of all persons detained in recent weeks for doing no more than exercising their fundamental human rights, which the government of Burma claims to now be respecting. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name of Myanmar, and Rangoon as Yangon. See the sample letter and recipient addresses here.

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as to the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case.

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This post is in: Press Release

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