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15 – 21 September: Arrest of Student on Trumped-up Charges is a Damning Indictment of Justice in Burma

September 23, 2014

15 Sept 2014 Oo Aung Facebook IrrawaddyOn 13 September 2014, police arrested female human rights defender (HRD) Phyu Hnin Htwe at her house in Patheingyi Township, Mandalay Region, and sent her to Monywa Prison, Sagaing Region, where she is currently being detained. Phyu Hnin Htwe is a second-year Burmese student at Mandalay’s Yadanabon University, and is also an activist and member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU). She has helped farmers who have been forcibly evicted to make way for the infamous Chinese-backed Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, going to the Letpadaung area at weekends and supporting displaced farmers.

Her arrest ostensibly relates to a murky incident that took place on 18 May of this year. Two Chinese workers – employees of Wanbao company, the main company involved in the joint venture – were seized from the Letpadaung area, taken to a monastery in Hsete Village, and held there for about 30 hours. The incident followed efforts by Wanbao employees to restart measuring plots of land for which compensation had not even been provided, in spite of villagers’ protests, thereby provoking their anger.

As a result, Phyu Hnin Htwe and six villagers were charged with kidnapping and abduction under Articles 364 and 368 of the Penal Code, which prescribe sentences of up to ten years’ imprisonment. While the case against five of the villagers was quickly dropped, charges still remain against Phyu Hnin Htwe and local villager Win Kyaw, neither of whom attended court in May.

Phyu Hnin Htwe’s hearing is scheduled for today, 23 September, at the Yinmabin Township Court. It is not yet clear whether she has a lawyer. The ABFSU has already released a statement calling for her immediate release, as well as launching a campaign calling for Phyu Hnin Htwe’s release. Furthermore, at the Women’s Forum for Peace on 20 September in Rangoon, organized by the Women’s Organizations Network (Myanmar) and the Women’s League of Burma, more than 350 women participants representing women’s groups from different parts of Burma signed a petition to be submitted to the Burma Government calling for Phyu Hnin Htwe’s immediate and unconditional release.

While abducting workers clearly falls outside the parameters of peaceful protest, and is a breach of national and international law, serious doubts persist as to whether Phyu Hnin Htwe was even present in the first place, still less whether she was implicated in the alleged abduction. The ABFSU insists that she was merely teaching some extra classes to children in Hsete Village when the two Chinese workers were brought into the village.

That of course should be for the judiciary to decide. Yet Burma’s notoriously corrupt, incompetent and government-controlled court system leaves little room for optimism. With judicial transparency, capacity and independence at such a low level, the chances of Phyu Hnin Htwe’s fair trial rights being respected – including the right to be tried by an independent and impartial tribunal under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the right, under Article 11(1) of the UDHR, to be presumed innocent until found guilty of any criminal activities – are slim to none.

In fact, given the Burma Government’s tendency towards silencing any critics of the powers-that-be – namely, the government itself, the Burma Army, and their cronies and corporate interests – it is more than likely that Phyu Hnin Htwe is being targeted for her legitimate human rights work. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states (under Article 1): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.” Moreover, Article 2 stipulates: “Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms […].” The Burma Government should therefore be enabling, rather than restricting, the peaceful and legitimate human rights activities of brave, hard-working and principled HRDs such as Phyu Hnin Htwe.

Unfortunately, the reverse is true: the current pre-election climate in Burma is proving unfavorable to HRDs, to say the least. There are reportedly seven ABFSU students currently facing trial for offenses under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act (Assembly Act), and under more conventional criminal law, particularly Article 505(b) of the Penal Code. Most have been protesting against the National Education Bill, or supporting farmers who protest against illegal forced land evictions, or even, in one case, conducting a lone protest (in no way an “assembly”), calling for national unity on International Peace Day. Such arrests occur despite the fact that the rights to peaceful assembly and association are protected under international law, namely Article 20(1) of the UDHR and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We are inspired by all HRDs in Burma for continuing their hugely valuable and difficult work in spite of these repeated incidents of judicial harassment, and the fear and suffering that they and their families inevitably face. We call upon the international community to peer behind the veil of the “political reforms” in Burma, and start to prioritize rights-based engagement over devil-may-care economic investment; and, finally, we call upon the Burma Government and the judiciary to drop all trumped-up charges against Phyu Hnin Htwe, and release her and all other HRDs in Burma immediately and unconditionally.

News Highlights

At a press conference, Chin activists and politicians attest to the beating of six ethnic Chin farmers during the nine days they spent in custody with the Burma Army soldiers, who accused the farmers of  supporting members of the Chin National Front

As the the ethnic armed groups and Burma Army prepare to meet for peace talks, armed clash between Burma Army and Karen National Liberation Army take place near Oo Thu Hta region in Karen State’s Papun District while Burma Army orders Karen rebel groups not to carry weapons or wear uniforms in the Thailand-Burma border town Myawaddy, following a temporary blockade of 30 trucks transporting Thai goods by the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council  and a discovery of a bomb allegedly set to explode near the Thailand-Burma Friendship Bridge

Inside Burma   

The United Nationalities Alliance, National League Democracy and 88 Generation Peace and Open Society as well as representatives from the 1990 political parties to hold a conference to help them prepare for the tripartite dialogues and draft a political framework which safeguards the rights of ethnic people and guarantees the establishment of a democratic federal union

Burma’s upper house approves the proposal which includes a set of policies to make life more pleasant for people in Arakan State, the proposal was submitted by MP Hla Swe from the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party

While most opposition political parties including Karen political parties welcome the cancellation of by-election by Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC), other political parties such as Karen Democratic Party criticise the cancellation, saying it could be a delay by the UEC in an attempt to put in place the system of Proportional Representation for the coming 2015 election

Karen Women’s Organization criticizes the decision of Karen National Union (KNU) to suspend working with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), saying the KNU would commit political suicide if it decides to leave the UNFC completely at this critical time, also warning it could lead to the ongoing sufferings of Karen people

The Shan State Army-South/Restoration Council of Shan State (SSA-RCSS) and the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation hold talks at the SSA headquarters in Loi Taileng regarding a territory dispute in Mauk Mae township in Shan State, and both sides fail to come to an agreement

The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation will join the student organizations protesting against the controversial National Education Bill if proposed legislation is not revised in Parliament, and condemn Burma authorities’ investigations into student protests, while calling for an immediate termination of the investigation

Burma Government says Tasang hydropower project, to be located on the upper Salween in Shan State, will benefit Burma’s populations, despite enormous criticism for lack of consultation regarding the project, potential mass relocation of indigenous peoples and concerns over social and environmental destruction

Rumours of a Buddhist girl beaten by her employee cause a mob to about 100 people to damage a house, shop and mosque near Bagan


Thailand to allow foreign workers without passports to work in border towns of Thailand on a day-to-day basis in a bid to reduce the number of migrants who travel on to bigger cities for better paying jobs


Dr Paul Cheung, the chairperson of the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) committee advising Burma’s government on the recent census, states that “The so-called ‘civil society groups’ have their own agenda” and blames civil society and rights group for inflaming the numerous controversies that arose while the census was being conducted


India’s lack of refugee recognition leaves Myanmar’s Rohingya in limbo
By Nita Bhalla
Thomson Reuters Foundation

26 Years After Coup, Military Still in the Driving Seat on Road to Reform
By Aung Zaw
The Irrawaddy

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Karen Civil Society Rallies Around Japan’s Harmful Plans for Eastern Burma
By Burma Partnership


A group of former Korea’s Master Sports footwears factory workers, who they claim were not given any advance notice of the factory’s closure in late June 2014, stage a sit-in at the factory by holding an official of labour department captive in order to get exact information about when and how they would be paid compensation for their sudden dismissal, which leads to a clash between the police and workers, injuring around 20 workers

Hundreds of local villagers in northern Burma stage peaceful protests in several villages to demand the release of Student Union member Phyu Hnin Htway who was involved in brief abduction of two Chinese workers from a Chinese-owned controversial copper mine nearby – a copper mine that had drawn frequent protests from local villagers for unfair land compensation and concerns over environmental impact

Statements and Press Releases

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံလုံးဆိုင္ရာ ေက်ာင္းသားမ်ား ဒီမိုကရက္တစ္တပ္ဦး (ေက်ာင္းသားတပ္မေတာ္) ေငြရတုအထိမ္းအမွတ္ႏွင့္ က်ဆုံးသြားခဲ့သည့္ ရဲေဘာ္မ်ားအတြက္ ဂုဏ္ျပဳပြဲအခမ္းအနားသို႔ ၈၈မ်ဳိးဆက္ (ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးနွင့္ ပြင့္လင္းလူ႔အဖြဲ႔အစည္း)မွ ေပးပို႔ေသာ သ၀ဏ္လႊာ
By 88 Generation Peace and Open Society

SYCB’s Statement on the International Day of Peace
By Students and Youth Congress of Burma

This post is in: Weekly Highlights