Two Kachin peace activists, May Sabe Phyu and Maran Jaw Gun, were today fined 40,000 Kyat ($40, £24), for violating Section 18 of Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, The case took place at San Chaung Township Court, Rangoon.
They had taken part in a peaceful protest in Rangoon on the International Day of Peace 2012, highlighting how the Burmese government broke a ceasefire in Kachin State, Burma, in 2011. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee attacks by the Burmese Army since they broke the ceasefire, and the United Nations have documented human rights abuses which could be classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
May Sabe Phyu and Maran Jaw Gun were made to attend 140 different court hearings over a period of almost two years. Burma Campaign UK attended one court hearing in Rangoon last year.
The case highlights three tactics being used by the government of Burma to try to suppress dissent and protest, but at the same time give the appearance of change and avoid international pressure.
Tactic one: New laws billed as reforms but which don’t meet international human rights standards
Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law was hailed as a key reform of President Thein Sein. Originally dubbed the right to protest law, it has in fact been used to arrest hundreds of activists for peacefully protesting, with well over 100 brought to court, and dozens convicted. The law gives government authorities power to ban any protest, and is even more severe than one of the SLORC era laws it replaced. Martial Law Order 2/88 stated the government could ban gatherings of five people or more. The new law brought in by Thein Sein applies to gatherings of two people or more. In addition to this law being used to arrest and intimidate activists, almost every old repressive law remains in place, and other new laws brought in by Thein Sein also fail to meet international human rights standards.
Tactic two: multiple court hearings
The 140 court appearances are due in part to the inefficiencies of Burma’s justice system, and the fact that separate charges were made for each township the protest went through. However, the repeated refusal to consolidate cases into one, and the vast number of court hearings, some of which lasted only seconds, are part of a pattern of attempted intimidation designed to serve as a warning to others who might consider publicly protesting against government policies.
Tactic three: fines and shorter sentences
Aware of the negative international impact of long prison sentences given to peaceful activists, shorter sentences and fines and now being given to some activists, especially those cases where there is greater attention from diplomats and media. In this way the government hopes to be able to continue intimidating activists while avoiding negative international attention. It could be argued that political activists receiving fines and shorter prison terms, rather than the sentences lasting several decades which used to be commonplace, is a positive step forward. The arrest and/or sentencing of any human rights activist for peacefully protesting against government policies is unacceptable, no matter what the sentence is. It is designed to intimidate and to suppress dissent. It is part of a pattern of continuing repression and should be unequivocally condemned as such. Failure to do so encourages the government to continue its repressive policies.
“May Sabe Phyu and Maran Jaw Gun spent almost two years in fear of being jailed, attending court cases more than once a week, and have now been fined and have a criminal conviction, all for organising a peaceful protest for peace,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “This case highlights new laws and tactics being used by the government of Burma to suppress dissent while trying to avoid international pressure. Sadly, these tactics are working, with the British government and others still unwilling to take off their rose-tinted glasses when dealing with Thein Sein and his government.”
May Sabe Phyu and Maran Jaw Gun
Mark Farmaner, Khon Ja, Ningli Hkawn, Maran Ja Seng Hkawn, May Sabe Phyu, Ivan Lewis MP, Maran Jaw Gun and Anna Roberts outside one of the court hearings in Rangoon 2012.