Prison Sentence Shows Burma Is ‘Still A Dictatorship,’ Karenni Youth Activists Say

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Six Karenni youth activists were sentenced by a Loikaw Township court to six months in prison with hard labor on Thursday for their role in protesting a statue of the late Gen Aung San.

A lawyer for the defendants said that the decision was made after 18 court sessions.

“A court of law made a final decision that they would be sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, but the days they already spent in detention must be deducted from their prison term. Therefore their prison term will end on December 21, 2019,” lawyer Saw Khu Talay told NMG.

Those sentenced include Khun Thomas, Khu Kyu Phae Kay—also known as Guugu, Pyar Lay, Dee De, Khu Reh Du and Myo Hlaing Win. They were arrested on June 21 after the closing ceremony of a commemoration for Karenni National Day.

The charges against the youth date back to March 25, when they released a statement accusing Karenni State chief minister L Phoung Sho, finance minister Maw Maw, and other officials involved in the erecting of the statue of Gen Aung San of betraying Karenni history and sowing disunity among ethnic peoples. The activists were charged with violating Article 10 of Burma’s Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens because their actions allegedly had a negative effect on the reputation of the state officials.

Lawyer Saw Khu Talay said that the activists referred to Article 354(a) of the Karenni (Kayah) State Constitution as having given them the right to criticize the state’s chief minister and finance minister. The article states that citizens can “express and publish freely their convictions and opinions” as long as they don’t break existing laws regarding security, peace, public order and morality.

“They felt that their rights were broken,” he explained.

Speaking to the media, activist Khun Thomas described the decision as unfair. The youth insist that they did not break any laws by objecting to the erecting of the Gen Aung San statue in the Karenni State capital.

“I want to say that freedom of speech and the freedom to write are basic principles within democratic values. When we exercise these principles, the authorities manipulate the law and push back against us,” he said.

The sentencing, Khun Thomas believes, was politically motivated.

“We should not have been sentenced to prison. We should not have been arrested,” he said. “Even though they are saying they are going to be a democratic nation, the current practices show that [the country] is still running under a dictatorship. Today’s sentence proves it.”

The six Karenni activists told media outlets that they would continue their opposition to the Gen Aung San statue when they are released from prison.